What is Childhood Trauma & How Can You Heal It?
When you think back to your childhood, you remember experiences that made you want the ground to open and swallow you. A feeling of shame.
There are other memories that bring back feelings of terror. When only the comfort of a cuddle from someone safe helped you.
There were times you craved love and attention.
Days running, climbing, jumping through the freedom of outdoors. Summers were always warmer for longer when you were a child.
Mostly though, you remember everything as normal. A normal childhood.
Of course, your childhood felt normal.
Normal – the usual, typical, or expected state or condition.
It was all you knew. You didn’t know any different. Things only begin to feel abnormal when you notice they are not typical. The truth is, there is no normal childhood. Everyone has a personal experience, and whether your experience was similar or not to another person’s experience makes little difference to anything. How you feel today as an adult and felt back then as a child is what matters.
Most adults try their best to keep the children around them safe. However, sometimes things still happen that evoke strong negative emotions and physical reactions in a child that continue long after the original experience. This is trauma and happens to adults too.
What Counts as Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma refers to an experience in which a child feels intensely threatened. Some situations of threat are direct, and something happens to the child. Others are indirect. The child is a witness to something that causes the imagined loss of an attachment figure, for example witnessing an attack on a parent.
When discussing experiences such as war, earthquakes, and tsunamis in the same sentence as school bullying or medical conditions, it is easy to negate some experiences as not extreme enough to cause trauma. Some people feel internal pressure to push the traumatising experience to the back of their mind, because it was an unavoidable experience for their benefit – for example, a hospital procedure that required a stay in hospital without parents.
The most common causes of trauma are terrorism and violence, grief, sex trafficking, sexual abuse, physical abuse, medical trauma, natural disasters, domestic violence, war trauma (including refugee trauma), bullying, community violence, neglect, and the effects of poverty. Whenever I write a list like this, I need it known that your situation is still valid, regardless of whether it features on the list. Childhood trauma usually happens when the child feels unable to protect themselves or lacking in protection from others. Regardless of what happened, the feeling of terror creates trauma, helplessness, and fear, in addition to physical feelings such as a racing heart, sickness, or loss of bowel or bladder control.
Trauma is the feeling that lingers after the event and can stay for a lifetime without therapy or self help to process the experience.
What is Developmental Trauma?
Developmental trauma occurs in the early stages of life. For some children their trauma started when they were still in the womb. Trauma for the mother whilst the baby is developing in utero, such as violence, use of substances, historic trauma, and mental health problems or stress, all play a part in the genetic make up of the baby and may create a person with heightened sensitivity to stress in life.
Early, developmental trauma is a traumatic experience or experiences that are not normally remembered by the child. They tend to happen before the age of 4 – 6. Traumatic experiences are not always visible. For example, neglect is the lack of something happening, rather than something happening. Children deprived of the necessary love, emotional connection and warmth might not have specific experiences to retell, but do have feelings of trauma.
Research tells us that it is not the experience that causes the trauma, but the lack of feeling safe. A child who goes through a threatening experience, but has an abundance of safety around them, is less likely to experience trauma. Again, it is important to note that this does not mean those with a safe, loving family cannot experience trauma. Many stories of trauma come from people with a safe, loving family, but had things happen outside the home that should not happen – such as abuse or bullying. The trauma affects the child’s ability to develop typically.
How to Heal from Childhood Trauma
Traumatic experiences trigger the body’s survival response. Often, when a child reverts to a safe place, the survival response stays switched on. This carries into adulthood and presents in various ways. You may experience some or all the symptoms. For those stuck in the trauma response, emotional regulation is difficult. You might tend to self-destruct and/or try to self soothe with substances or self-harm. Your attention might not be on point. For example, you may struggle to remember things and dissociate. Many people with trauma have feelings of guilt and shame with low self-esteem. You might feel it impossible to find someone who understands you. In addition, you may struggle with relationships in general, as trust and intimacy are difficult. The physical response might mean you have medical problems – possibly related to the abuse.
If you wonder how to heal childhood trauma, the good news is the brain is malleable and therefore repairable! Some researchers believe you can heal from developmental trauma with the right intervention. Other researchers believe we can look at the creation of developmental trauma and use it to find the cure – the answer is in relationships.
The relationship you need to heal can be with a therapist or friends and family. When you find a way to process the traumatic feelings in a safe environment with someone you trust, the trauma starts to heal. Hypnotherapy for childhood trauma will help you regulate your emotions, and build a trusting supportive relationship with someone who will listen as you work through your experiences or feelings of trauma from your early experiences.