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The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Adults, Part 2

When we go through traumas in childhood there can be lasting effects on how we function in adulthood. In a previous blog, I began by talking about how childhood traumas can lead to difficulties with learned helplessness, anxiety, depression and emotional constriction. But these are not the only ways that these traumas can have an impact throughout the lifespan.

  • Distorted Reasoning: This occurs as a means of trying to make sense out of chaos experienced in trauma. When you go through frightening, painful and confusing experiences we can search for ways to make sense of what is happening around you which can result in magical thinking or reasoning that is not based in fact. This can show up as thoughts like “If I say how I feel then I will get punished or someone will get hurt,” or “Since they couldn’t show me love then I am undeserving of love” or “People show that they care by hurting me,” etc.
  • Difficulty trusting or having faith in others due to instability in primary childhood relationships. If the people who are supposed to be there for you growing up were not stable and their word could not be trusted, it can set the groundwork for having trouble trusting people in general and believing that you need to do things on your own because you cannot trust others to follow through with their word. This can result in feelings of loneliness, isolation, anger and depression which impact the ability to have a healthy relationship with family members, friends or a significant other.
  • Hypervigilance is when a person is constantly waiting for something bad to happen, “the other shoe to drop,” or for a potential danger. When raised in instability and the threat of potential dangers could be present anywhere, it is adaptive to be on guard and ready for danger. This can become maladaptive when it keeps you from being able to enjoy the moment and your anxiety is persistent. This can make it hard to relax, go into public with the fear of a potential threat, and even be startled easily. Remind yourself that as an adult, you have been able to make it through many threatening situations in which you have protected yourself, responded and survived. No matter how much planning you do to try and stay safe you must remember to trust yourself to respond, because you have shown that you can trust your response in the past.
  • Traumatic bonding is an unhealthy bonding style which the distribution of power is unbalanced and there is a lack of mutual support. This is replicative of relationships in childhood where a child may have had to take care of the parent because of addiction or protect the parent and siblings from being abused. This frequently looks like one-person care taking of their partner and not receiving the same care in return as an adult.
  • Loss of ability to take in care from others and support occurs as a result of emotional numbing. When we are in traumatic situations, we numb our emotions and shut them out to protect us from being further hurt as well as to keep us prepared to engage in action for survival. This numbing can stay present for years and it keeps you from being able to feel emotions such as joy, hope, compassion and security. Remember that you can not numb just one emotion at a time, all of them get numbed. This means that although there may be people who are there to love and support you, you may not be able to feel or recognize this because of the emotional numbing that has occurred.

With each of these impacts, there are ways to work through them. The hard part is that these have become normal behaviors in your life that can be problematic to you being able to fully function in the ways that you want as an adult. You must be willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable and make changes to create a new normal, which can be scary. Help is out there if you chose to accept it. There are more impacts of childhood traumas on adulthood which will follow in a separate post. Author: Angela Powell, MA, LPC