Stemming from the Greek word for ‘wound’, trauma used to only mean a physical wound. Now the meaning encompasses wounds to our emotional and mental well-being as well. My own definition of trauma, as relates to mental health is:
An emotional or psychological shock stemming from a single distressing event, or series of events, which negatively impact the individual over the long-term.
Unfortunately, we are all traumatised as children, to some extent or another. Having experienced something which made your child-self feel alone with no-one to turn to is one of the major indicators of long-lasting childhood trauma. This could manifest in feelings of vulnerability, being unsafe, overwhelm, terror, either singularly or a combination of them.
Your brain chemistry and development are likely to be impacted if you have been subjected to a series of traumatic events in your childhood. Studies show clear differences in brain development for those who experienced trauma when compared to those who did not.
This is an issue because the effect of single or multiple traumas can have life-long implications on our mental health. Such as affecting our ability to be able to function effectively as a responsible adult.
It can be difficult to pinpoint trauma, particularly if we don’t remember what happened to us. It can often mimic depression or other conditions. However here are 9 signs that you may be dealing with your own childhood trauma:
1. Withdrawal or Isolation
Sometimes an underlying fear of others and lack of trust affects our ability to maintain meaningful relationships. Perhaps you feel so bad about yourself that you don’t want to seek the companionship of others. Or you feel different and that you don’t belong. Sometimes you only feel safe when you are alone. You may also be, or feel, rejected by others as you don’t really know how to interact on a social level. Social interactions can cause you a lot of anxiety.
2. Feeling Sad or Hopeless
Do you experience unexplained periods of deep sadness and a feeling that things will never get better? When we feel sad, usually we can trace it to an event that happened in our recent past. But these deeper feelings of sadness are different. We may not be able to understand what has caused or triggered them and they may last for a long time, or we live with them on a daily basis.
3. Feeling Disconnected and Numb or Chronic Illness
Have you ever experienced a feeling of unreality? Like things are happening to someone else, or what does happen to you doesn’t matter? These feelings can mean we are not being able to react to events spontaneously or we can feel frozen. You may feel numb to the pleasures of everyday life. Chronic illness, such as chronic fatigue can also have its roots in trauma.
4. Sleeping Too Much or Too Little
Do you find you are sleeping too much or too little or having recurring nightmares?
A loss of appetite, overeating which can lead to eating disorders, can indicate we are dealing with trauma.
6. Unexplained Over Reactions
People living with trauma can display angry or anxious responses to things, which seem way out of proportion to the actual event. If your brain growth was affected by traumas suffered as a child, your ability to regulate your own emotions and dealing with stress can be compromised.
7. Problems with Concentration and Recall
As above. Your ability to order memory and contrate may be affected if your brain development was interrupted by adverse experiences.
Are you experiencing unbidden and uncomfortable snippets of memory? Sometimes memories of smells, sounds or physical sensations can possibly mean you are remembering parts of something unpleasant that happened to you. A traumatic event can be so overwhelming that our brain cuts up the images, sounds and smells and stores them separately, so that we can continue to function. We may not remember the event(s) at all. This is known as disassociation. When the threat is no longer imminent the brain will attempt to process what it couldn’t process at the time by releasing tiny parts of the memory.
9. Addictions or Self Harm
In addition, I would also include behavioural issues in this such as OCD or hoarding. When we go through one or more traumatic events, experiencing the full force of our reactions and feelings at the time can be too overwhelming. Therefore, we might use substances or behaviours to soothe our feelings, or suppress them. This is how addictions form, to numb us to the desolation of actually feeling our feelings.
Can you get help for trauma?
The good news is that for the vast majority of people, there are types of therapy (and good therapists!) that can help us to heal from childhood trauma. Or at least help us to manage and regulate our thoughts and feelings to do with what has happened to us.
Additionally it is helpful to have someone who will walk alongside us whilst we come to terms with what happened to us and the meaning we have attached to it. They can hold a safe space where we can complete the process of emotions at the time of the trauma(s). The fear or anxiety experienced at the time will keep unconsciously replaying if the emotional processing is left undone.
Emotions have an end and part of the healing is to know that you have survived whatever happened to you and it is now safe to feel what you feel.
All therapy is about, at least in part, changing our relationship to what happened. The meaning we may have attached to our trauma, such as ‘I am rubbish and don’t matter’, or ‘everything always goes wrong for me.’ In challenging the frozen-in-time child-like meaning we attached to the traumatic event, we can see it from a different perspective and move forward.
Part of this process will likely involve:
- Being fully present and in your body
- Being able to recall the event
- Regulating the emotions this evokes
- Naming how you feel
- Having one or more witnesses to share it with
- Ultimately letting go of it.
I feel that an important part of the healing process is to love ourselves more. Love ourselves for being human with all our vulnerabilities. Love ourselves because this happened to us and despite it.
This may be a life-long love-affair with ourselves, or in fact, a life-long learning to love ourselves love affair!
Wherever you are with trauma in your life, there is always hope, and love; we may just need to learn to find it.