Childhood trauma can happen when a child experiences a distressing event. That event may be violent, dangerous, or life-threatening. It’s certainly extremely upsetting to the child. But what is childhood trauma exactly?
That depends somewhat on the child. An event or series of events that traumatize one child may not affect another. However, childhood trauma is more common than many people realize. More than 60% of U.S. children survive at least one traumatic experience by the age of 16.
And the trauma doesn’t necessarily stay in childhood. If left unresolved, trauma from childhood can affect the way an adult thinks and behaves. Trauma can lead to mental health problems, including intimacy disorders and addictions, like sex addiction. Overall, childhood trauma can be an obstacle to enjoying healthy, loving adult relationships.
What is Considered Childhood Trauma?
When children face frightening or threatening circumstances before they’re 18, it’s known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Not all ACEs lead to trauma. Like adults, children have varying levels of resiliency and the unique ability to process traumatic experiences. When the feeling of fear lingers long after the threat is gone, it may be emotional trauma.
The 10 ACES are:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Living with a relative with a mental health disorder
- Having an incarcerated parent
- Mother being treated violently
- Substance use in the home
Some experts believe the original list of ACEs should be expanded to include experiences like bullying, racism, community violence, neighborhood safety, home or food insecurity, or even living in foster care.
While only 10 ACEs are widely recognized, various traumatic happenings can fall into some of the categories. For example, bullying, ridiculing, being given the silent treatment, or isolating a child could all fall into the category of emotional abuse.
Perhaps more importantly, there are other traumatic happenings that a child may experience that don’t fall into the 10 ACEs that also may cause emotional trauma. For example, a home invasion or a car wreck can leave a lasting impact on a child and make them feel ongoing fear long after the event occurs.
A child does not have to directly experience an event to experience emotional trauma from it. Hearing about a distressing event secondhand, especially when the story is often repeated, can cause trauma.
Also, living with someone with emotional trauma can result in a child adopting behaviors based on the idea that the world isn’t a safe place. This learned trauma from a child’s surroundings is called environmental trauma. If trauma is passed on from one generation to the next, even though subsequent generations didn’t experience the trauma, it’s called generational trauma.
How Does Childhood Trauma Affect You as an Adult?
Trauma can impact every aspect of a child’s life, including their emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. And a person can carry those effects into adulthood.
Childhood trauma can affect an adult physically through:
- Chronic pain
- Lower immune function
- Heart concerns
- Sleep difficulties
- High levels of stress hormones
The effects of childhood trauma in adults aren’t just physical. It can emotionally impact an adult through:
- Mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression
- Anger and aggression
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Consistent sadness
- Helplessness or hopelessness
- Poor self-esteem
- Memory loss
- Difficulty trusting or relating to others
- Feeling like the world is unsafe
And childhood trauma can result in a myriad of behavioral concerns in adults, including:
- Impulse control issues
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors
- Excessive use of substances, like drugs or alcohol
- Engaging in self-harm
- Poor coping mechanisms
- Difficulty with social interactions
Trauma can also impact a child’s ability to feel safe with caregivers. This may lead to attachment disorders that make it difficult to build healthy relationships even into adulthood. One study found that children who survive abuse have less satisfying marriages.
In adulthood, intimacy disorders, including sex, masturbation, and porn addictions, are often linked to childhood trauma. That’s because people use these activities in an attempt to cope with negative emotions stemming from childhood.
“Intimacy disorders almost always are rooted in trauma and specifically childhood trauma,” said Matt Wenger, Clinical Director at Begin Again Institute. “This can lead to negative core beliefs such as, ‘I am not worthy of love’ or ‘I’m bad’ that put us at arm’s length from people. The pain of these traumas can also lead to negative coping attempts that one may feel the need to hide from others, thus widening the gap further and confirming to themselves the negative beliefs they already had.”
Healing From Childhood Trauma
The long-term effects of childhood trauma can change your life. Trauma can cause you to experience intimacy disorders, including sex addiction. The good news is that it’s never too late to heal. One effective way is through trauma-informed therapy.
Trauma-informed therapy is an approach to care, not a specific technique. Certified sex addiction therapists (CSATs) are trained in trauma-informed therapy. The goal of this therapeutic approach is to avoid re-traumatizing clients with care that is insensitive to their needs. Instead, these therapists have an expert understanding of how trauma can impact all parts of a person, even long after the traumatic experience.
A trauma-informed therapist shifts the approach to treatment from, “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
There are many therapeutic techniques that are effective in treating trauma. Two techniques that are common in trauma therapy include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR).
CBT is a short-term therapy that focuses on improving the present, not reliving the past. Clients who do CBT with a therapist learn new skills to replace negative thinking and behavioral patterns with more positive habits.
The goal of EMDR is to minimize the emotional pain related to traumatic memories. Therapists use eye movements, tapping, and other sensory tools to help reprogram the brain’s reaction to memories.
Begin Again Institute’s Approach
We use the Trauma-Induced Sexual Addiction (TINSA®) model, which is unique to BAI, to help men identify and heal the traumas that led to intimacy issues.
TINSA is a neurobiological approach that helps clients understand the way their mind and body respond to trauma and process that trauma. We combine this approach with various treatment modalities, depending on the client’s unique needs.
Alex K. shared his experience with Begin Again Institute and the TINSA approach:
Begin Again Institute offers two intensives for men with intimacy disorders, sex addiction, pornography addiction, or masturbation addiction. The traditional 14-Day Men’s Intensive allows men to steep themselves in recovery while staying on a beautiful private campus in Berthoud, Colorado, in a captivating historic home.
The Boulder Recovery 14-Day Men’s Christian Intensive offers the same treatment as the traditional intensive but through the lens of faith. The Boulder Recovery Intensive is in a spacious cabin in the Rocky Mountains.
Moving Forward with Begin Again Institute
What is childhood trauma? It’s trauma that can come in many forms and affect your life in many different ways. If you experienced trauma as a child, it may still be impacting you in your adult life.
Improve your quality of life by taking steps to heal from your trauma and intimacy concerns. Contact Begin Again Institute today to learn more.