10 Ways Childhood Trauma Affects Us in Adulthood

10 Ways Childhood Trauma Affects Us in Adulthood

Childhood trauma can be experienced in various ways. Some people experience a single traumatic event that they remember throughout their lives. Others experience traumatic occurrences daily, leaving them to pick up the pieces once they’re adults and on their own. For anyone who has experienced this trauma, it can be life-altering and terrifying to work on in adulthood.

From having to deal with social workers in your youth to case management and medication in adulthood, you may be wondering what exactly is affecting you and why. How does trauma work in the brain? How do we continue to feel the effects long after it has ended?

Here are ten ways our childhood trauma affects us even as adults.

1. It Impacts Your Physical Health

Your physical health can be significantly related to traumatic experiences, especially prolonged ones. Even if you do not have a specific illness, trauma in the body can cause several responses that you may not know about. Here are some physical symptoms you may often experience:

  • Night sweats
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Constant tiredness or fatigue
  • Weakness in the body

If you are feeling any of these symptoms without cause, your nervous system and digestive system may be acting up. Trauma lives in our brain, but specifically in the part that regulates our nerves and physical body in tandem with our mind. When it is unwell, your body will also feel ill.

Autoimmune conditions are also typical with a childhood trauma history. You should always see a doctor if something is wrong, even if it’s trauma-related. It’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2. It Impacts Your Relationships

Trauma often forms due to unhealthy relationships in childhood (which are not your fault). It could be an abusive parent, neglectful parents, or singular events from someone in the family, church, or a neighbor. When we experience painful events as children with people we’re supposed to trust, it skews our trust in adulthood.

Many people with trauma report having complicated relationships with the people they love. They may not be able to keep a relationship for long or have difficulty trusting their partner. This phenomenon all comes down to attachment styles. There are four of them, including:

  • Anxious Avoidant
  • Anxious Ambivalent
  • Disorganized
  • Secure

Anxious avoidant adults may feel uneasy in relationships to the point of being emotionally distant and not mentally present. They may not trust themselves and have difficulty expressing their feelings.

Anxious ambivalent adults may feel extremely worried about their partner leaving them. They may often ask for reassurance and not trust that other people mean what they say. They are often highly emotional.

Disorganized attached adults switch back and forth between the previous two attachment styles, becoming extremely attached at times and pulling back at other times. This style mimics what they saw as children from abusive adults.

Secure attachment in adults is what we all hope to achieve. It represents feeling completely trustworthy and having the emotional capacity to express yourself healthily and respect the boundaries of yourself and others.

3. You May Feel Helpless

Learned helplessness is something that many traumatized adults experience, especially in young adulthood. You may not have been given the opportunity to express yourself or learn what you like to do as a child.

In adulthood, this comes out as feeling like you are not good enough or not strong enough to complete tasks such as taking care of the home, parenting, going to work, or paying bills. Many adults who had trauma around taking care of their parents or siblings as children will experience this.

In childhood, they felt as if they were doing everything for everyone. However, their parents would often tell them that it wasn’t enough or that they were the opposite of what they thought. When you have experienced a trauma where someone has said that you are not good enough, you may experience learned helplessness.

Finding ways to validate yourself throughout your life and going to therapy are both ways to heal this thought pattern.

4. You May Not Understand Common Household Chores

If your trauma was from your parents or the people who raised you, you might not have learned the proper skills that most adults have. You may have trouble washing dishes, washing your clothes, cleaning the house, or washing yourself.

If you have issues with chores and hygiene, you’re not alone. It’s difficult to not be taught precisely what to do when it seems like everyone around you already knows. You may pick up on some skills from friends and relationships, but you may find people getting irritated when you don’t understand.

Luckily, you can take a few classes to help out. You can also join groups of others who have the same experiences as you online. There are plenty of videos and shows that can help you learn organization and hygiene, which you can tailor to fit your own needs.

5. You May Feel Alone

It can feel incredibly isolating to go through trauma and then be an adult on your own. Even if you’re in a relationship, you may think that no one understands you and what you go through. This feeling can be exasperated if you have flashbacks or distressing symptoms.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. 1 in 7 children goes through trauma of some sort. That means 1 in 7 adults have experienced trauma as a child. Unreported cases and people who do not get help are not in that number. For that reason, it’s safe to assume that a whole lot of people have experienced trauma.

You can join support groups, find a trauma-specific therapist, and speak to people who understand. Don’t cut other relationships out of your life but understand that you also have the possibility to have a secure attachment style someday, trauma or not.

6. You May Develop PTSD or Panic Attacks

Many people who have experienced trauma, whether prolonged or not, may develop PTSD or panic attacks in later life. An estimated 6% of the population has PTSD (across the entire world). That’s a considerable number.

Panic attacks can also be a symptom of PTSD. Some of the most common signs you may be struggling with this disorder are:

  • Remembering in vivid detail your traumatic event
  • Feeling unsafe in safe situations
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Nightmares
  • Relationship and attachment issues
  • Fear of more trauma
  • A lack of trust
  • Hypervigilance

To get help for suspected PTSD, you can find a therapist online or in your area who specializes in the condition.

7. You Often Make Yourself Busy

One way that many adults deal with childhood trauma is by making themselves busy. They may put in extra hours at work, take on multiple commitments at once, or take on several projects and ideas. These actions are used to avoid thoughts, fears, and realizations of trauma or anxiety.

If you find yourself doing a lot to avoid trauma, you may want to speak to a licensed therapist to help you understand why. 

8. You May Be an Overly Protective Parent

Many adults who were abused as children will become an overly protective parent. They will want their child around at all times, worry about their child when they’re not home, and think about their child often. They want to give their child everything they didn’t have, which is admirable.

The only issue with being constantly hypervigilant with your child is that it leads to not having a secure relationship with them. Instead, it becomes another anxious ambivalent connection. Every child needs the ability to explore and be independent and have someone who loves them to come home to. It’s a balance.

9. You May Struggle With Work

Like the learned helplessness section, many adults with trauma have a hard time working. It may be due to PTSD or anxiety, which can also be due to a fear of commitment. If you have trouble keeping a schedule or going to work when you’re distressed, you may want to speak to a licensed therapist.

10. It Impacts Your Self-Esteem

Finally, trauma impacts our self-esteem. Many adults feel like they are not doing good enough in many areas of their lives. You may have negative self-talk, such as:

  • “No one loves me.”
  • “I am a burden.”
  • “I will always be alone.”
  • “I don’t do anything right.”
  • “I need to do more.”
  • “I don’t want to be me.”

If you think these things often, it may be caused by your childhood trauma. Usually, the negative things we think about ourselves and others are manifestations of what our parents or caregivers told us about ourselves when we were young.

How to Find Relief

Although all of these trauma symptoms in adulthood are highly distressing, help is always available. As time goes on, more and more people are becoming trauma-informed and learning about how trauma affects adults. BetterHelp has tons of information on your childhood that may help out as well: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/childhood/.

Trauma therapy such as EMDR or attachment-style treatment may help you. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It is available 24/7. If you have a plan of suicide, contact 911.

Remember, healing from trauma is possible, and you’re not alone.