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How Do I Know if Adverse Childhood Experiences are Affecting Me?

If you have endured childhood trauma, it might come as a surprise to know that the traumatic issues you had when you were little are still there as an adult.

Your happiness, relationships, or even professional aspects of your life can be destroyed by childhood trauma.

  • You haven't felt yourself lately, and you wonder if you are suffering from unresolved childhood trauma?

 

Your trauma will spill into your adult life, making you feel like it's all turned upside down.

You did your utmost to move forward. It was also effectively shut out much of the time.

  • You've been feeling nervous again lately, on the edge of insanity, occasionally. Depressed thoughts are starting to take over. You may even feel like retreating into a shell.

 

When you've been traumatized as a child, it lives deep inside you. It can even settle in your tissues.  The memories, even if pushed away and not conscious, are etched into your mind and body.  Many traumatized children feel they've always been on their own and do the best they can to work things out for themselves.  The problem is, there's only so much you can do all by yourself. That's why the most severe effects of childhood trauma often go "unresolved."

Even if I've had therapy?

Many therapists aren't experts in childhood trauma, and that's what you need to reach the core of your early experiences.

Unfortunately, the origins of your childhood trauma remain unresolved. Such symptoms may go underground for a while. Still, you may be pulled back into the original experiences by stress that triggers an emotional upheaval or an incident that serves as too near a reminder of your previous trauma.

The Past Isn't Always in the Past

While your trauma is theoretically "in the past," until the ways they live on in your daily experiences are understood, traumatizing childhood experiences cannot be laid to rest.

 

Freud said that even though we try not to, we have a "compulsion to repeat." That's why you may be in relationships that remind you of others that in the past have traumatized you.

Your childhood trauma will remain "unresolved" until you have figured out just how your experience's origins are alive in the present.

How Childhood Trauma Affected Your Brain

Childhood trauma will leave both your body and your mind with a scar. It also affects the structure of the child's brain when the trauma is extreme and prolonged. Your brain is busy growing and developing throughout childhood. The effects can be profoundly devastating when trauma disrupts this process. Early childhood trauma, irrespective of the types of trauma they have undergone, can limit early brain development that can have lifelong effects on the child.

Blocked Neural Pathways

The neurons make up the brain networks that bind together to control the activity of your brain. The earlier the trauma of childhood occurred, the more altered the development of the brain. The goal of brain growth is to boost your ability to survive.

However, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment, your brain develops to help you survive in that environment. In that unstable climate, the neural pathways that function are overdeveloped, while other tracks are not as well developed as they would typically be. The proper development of these pathways is affected by early childhood trauma, while trauma that occurs later in life affects how the pathways are refined.

Since the traumatic environment is so different from most of the circumstances you will encounter later in life; you will have problems adjusting to those new situations. Outside of such an atmosphere, some individuals cannot cope, so they search for the same kind of unhealthy relationships that triggered the trauma.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect You as An Adult?

Often, childhood trauma will bleed into your adult life because there is still a traumatized child living inside you, no matter how hard you have tried to move on.

This child part of you still bears your trauma and pain if you have not had ample support, or the right kind of therapy, to sort out your trauma.

You may not always notice it or know it's there, but when you are depressed, signs of your childhood trauma come out. Or when something acts as a subtle or not-so-subtle reminder in your life of what happened to you as a child.

The pain of your childhood resides in your symptoms via depression, attacks of fear, an eating disorder, obsessive concerns, catastrophic anxieties, and worries about relationships.

You may have confidence issues, low self-esteem, fears of being judged, relentless attempts to please, outbursts of anger, or signs of social anxiety that will not let up.

Understanding Childhood Trauma

Learning the concept is the first step to recognizing childhood trauma. Learning about the history of your family will provide insight into recognizing one's trauma as well.

Examine Your Childhood Memories

You may be able to recall things that were abuse, neglect, or any other sort of traumatic experience that happened to you as a child. As a way to get in contact with your childhood memories and the emotions that followed them at the time, it may help to try journaling to examine whether these incidents resulted in childhood trauma for you. Later on, if you want to start counseling, these notes will help you begin repairing your childhood trauma.

Talk to Relatives

Adults who have undergone trauma as children can not recall the exact specifics of their childhood traumatic events. Or, they may have forgotten what happened. Speak to relatives you trust who can help by filling in the pieces you don't recall if your background feels like a huge question mark and you're unsure if you endured childhood trauma. While everybody has a point of view, the information you need to recognize and understand the trauma can be filled by a relative.

Take a Trauma Assessment

The Questionnaire on Childhood Trauma is a method used by mental health providers to classify the forms and nature of child abuse and neglect. In scientific research projects, the questionnaire has been extensively studied and proved to be highly accurate. It's a self-report test, which means that you answer questions about yourself, rating each answer from "Never True" to "Very Often True."

If you want to take a test at home, consider the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) Test. Find out your ACE score here and learn what it does and doesn't mean.

Talk to a Counsellor.

If your testing shows signs, symptoms, or specifics of childhood trauma, a therapist can help you figure out if you have experienced childhood trauma. They will also help you cope with the emotions you have about it and teach you ways to overcome its effect on your life.

The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences

As children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma, traumatic experiences at a young age may be troublesome. They are still developing their brains, which means that childhood trauma will interfere with normal brain growth.

The prolonged stress from ACEs can affect attention, decision making, learning, and stress management.

Childhood trauma places people at a significantly higher risk of the effects of future trauma. Individuals can also pass on these effects to their children.

Research has linked ACES to various health consequences, such as:

  • physical health issues

  • psychological conditions

  • risky behaviors

  • developmental disruption

  • increased use of healthcare services

 

They can also have other implications for the individual, such as problems with education, work, and relationships. The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their risk of adverse outcomes.

Consequences of ACEs

The potential consequences of ACEs may include:

Physical health problems

  • cancer

  • diabetes

  • heart disease

  • injury

  • maternal and child health problems

  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

  • increased risk of obesity and poor outcomes following weight-loss efforts.

 

Mental health issues

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • substance use disorder

  • suicidal behaviors or death by suicide

  • addictive behaviors, including food addiction

 

Personal issues

  • issues relating to education and job opportunities

  • being a perpetrator of violence or being subject to it

  • teen pregnancy

  • involvement in sex trafficking

 

Societal Issues

ACEs bear tremendous economic and social costs, both in healthcare and incarceration costs, for neighborhoods and the broader community.

Experiencing childhood violence and other ACEs contributes directly to higher offending rates.

Furthermore, individuals who undergo ACEs are at greater risk of mental illness, drug abuse, and aggression that may lead to ACEs for future generations. The effects of ACEs may, in this sense, be intergenerational.