Experiencing trauma as a child can lead to a host of emotional and psychological issues that may not emerge until later in life. Adults who experienced trauma during childhood may experience difficulties in many aspects of their lives. They may not realize that these traumatic experiences are contributing factors to their current issues, if not the root cause of them.
Does Childhood Trauma Increase the Risk of Psychological Issues?
Traumatic experiences in childhood can contribute to a multitude of personal, emotional, psychological and behavioral issues. These issues can include but are not limited to the following problems:
- Anxiety disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Addiction to drugs or destructive behaviors
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Marital difficulties
- Sexual issues
- Difficulty trusting others
- Problems in a career or at work
Any of these difficulties may be due, at least in part, to trauma experienced in childhood. The trauma may not be enough alone to trigger psychological or behavioral issues, but it may put the person at an increased risk for developing such issues, especially when stressful or traumatic experiences arise in adulthood.
How Trauma Affects People
Just as every individual is unique, every individual’s reactions are unique. Likewise, every traumatic experience is unique, as are the ways that survivors cope with the experiences. Some people cope with trauma in healthier, more productive ways than others. One person may experience multiple traumatic experiences or have a continually traumatic childhood, but she emerges as a healthy and well-adjusted adult; on the other hand, trauma can seriously damage another person even if the experience mild in comparison. Trauma is subjective: if someone believes he is in danger, the situation is traumatic.
However, trauma nevertheless affects many people. Extended exposure to trauma also increases the risk of maladaptive responses. For example, if someone grows up in a household in which there are regular episodes of domestic violence, she may harbor many symptoms of fear into her adulthood. Personal as opposed to impersonal trauma seems to impact people more deeply.
Finally, the way someone handles trauma may further increase the risk of emotional or psychological problems. If a parent recognizes and seeks professional treatment for his child’s trauma, the child will probably feel more cared for and valued than one whose trauma went unnoticed. The child will also see a valuable example of how to cope with trauma, and may be more likely to seek help as an adult—this can train kids to deal with trauma in productive ways. If a parent does not recognize or treat her child’s trauma, the child may be more likely to withdraw as an adult and cope with stress or trauma in maladaptive ways, such as drug use or through avoiding emotions.