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Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adults & How to Heal

Childhood trauma stems from a traumatic event that takes place during childhood. However, the adverse effects of that event don’t disappear when the childs grow up — typically, they can linger well into adulthood. Identifying childhood trauma in adults can be tricky, since everyone experiences trauma differently. How childhood trauma presents itself in adult life will depend on which type of trauma was experienced. This article discusses the types of childhood trauma, how this trauma might affect the children when they’ve grown up, and — most importantly — how to heal from childhood trauma. It’s important to remember that no matter how traumatic the event was, there is help available.


What Is Childhood Trauma?

Knowing what qualifies as a traumatic event is vital when trying to get a better understanding of childhood trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) defines a traumatic event as, “a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.” It’s important to note that what is considered frightening for one child might not be frightening for another. This is why it can be confusing to know what’s considered a childhood trauma.

What Factors Affect the Way a Child Responds to Trauma?

There are several factors that impact the way children respond to trauma. The severity of the traumatic event is an obvious one, but other factors include:

  • Developmental level
  • Cultural factors, such as ethnicity and location
  • Previous exposure to trauma
  • Pre-existing child and family problems
  • Available resources

Examples of Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma can appear in a number of ways, and each case is unique to the person who experienced it. However, they often fall into very similar categories. Here are some of the most common:


Abuse in itself has a range of subcategories. The most common of these are physical, emotional, and sexual. These types often overlap with each other, and it’s not uncommon for a child who’s experiencing one of these to be experiencing another or all three. Abuse can come from parents and siblings, or even more distant family members, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents.


Neglect can be physical or emotional. Physical neglect refers to the failure to provide basic needs such as clothing, food, or healthcare. Emotional neglect includes withholding affection, ignoring a child, or a general disregard for a child’s mental health.

Dysfunctional Home Environments

Dysfunctional home environments are essentially home environments that don’t serve their intended purpose of keeping a child safe. There are many factors that contribute to a dysfunctional home environment. Struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, gambling addictions, divorce, and financial trouble are just a few of these factors. When someone in the family struggles with untreated PTSD or other mental health issues, it can also lead to a dysfunctional home setting. Additional signs of a dysfunctional home include:

  • Regular arguments between parents
  • Domestic abuse
  • Parents with unaddressed mental health problems
  • Separation from a parent, such as through incarceration

Dysfunctional Social Environments

Social environments include places such as schools, churches, and community spaces. And just like home environments, these spaces have the potential to be dysfunctional or unsafe. Dysfunction in social environments can be caused by:

  • Violence in the community
  • Bullying either online or in person
  • Discrimination and racism
  • Poverty
  • War

Growing up in these dysfunctional environments can lead to challenges in adulthood. Among these challenges are a lack of boundaries or a tendency to take the blame for things. Although overcoming these challenges can be hard, there are resources available.

Death of a Parent or Loved One

For a child, losing a parent or loved one can come with feelings of confusion, uncertainty, and fear. Additionally, losing a parent or guardian can lead to other factors that contribute to childhood trauma, such as financial worries or neglect.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters have the power to change everything you’ve ever known. In mere seconds, a natural disaster can destroy a home, wreck a family’s financial future, and more. Examples of natural disasters include:

  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods

Serious Illness

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can lead to childhood trauma. For a child, dealing with an illness that causes chronic pain or is incurable comes with stress and uncertainty. As a child, you can also experience trauma if a close loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness.


From the highway to home, accidents happen all around us, and those accidents can be traumatizing. Accidents with major impacts such as car crashes and house fires are commonly linked to childhood trauma.

Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

It may be difficult to know if you’ve experienced childhood trauma at some point in your life. Symptoms and situations vary from person to person, and not everyone reacts to the same events in the same way. Depending on your experience, adults who’ve struggled with childhood trauma could be living with any of the following symptoms:

    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Emotional outbursts
    • Panic attacks
    • Chronic stress
    • Fatigue
    • Chronic health problems
    • Sleep issues
    • Isolation
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Unregulated anger
    • Eating disorders
    • Feeling numb or disconnected
    • Trouble trusting others
    • Sexual avoidance or hypersexuality
    • Attachment/abandonment issues
    • Difficulty managing everyday stressors
    • Insecure attachment styles
    • Substance abuse issues

How to Heal from Childhood Trauma

Experiencing the lingering effects of childhood trauma in your adult life can be overwhelming. Sometimes, the more you learn about childhood trauma, the more it feels like you can’t escape it. Luckily, that’s not the case. With the right resources and professional support, healing your childhood trauma is possible. Because each individual experiences and processes trauma differently, there are several different options for healing. These options include but are not limited to:

Learn More About Trauma-Focused Therapy at Beachway Therapy Center

If you’re ready to start your healing journey, then Beachway Therapy Center can help. Beachway offers helpful mental health programs and specializes in mental health, substance abuse, and dual-diagnosis treatment. Contact Beachway Therapy Center over the phone or online to learn more about childhood trauma and the healing process.