Childhood trauma can have lasting impacts into adulthood. When we experience trauma at a young age, it can affect our sense of safety, our relationships, and our overall wellbeing. Many adults who experienced childhood trauma wonder if they will ever fully “get over” what happened to them. The short answer is that the effects of trauma never completely disappear. However, with time and effort, it is possible to heal, recover, and live a fulfilling life despite having experienced childhood trauma.
What constitutes childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma refers to stressful or frightening events that occur during childhood and adolescence. These experiences can be emotionally painful or distressing and often result in lasting psychological and physical effects. Types of childhood trauma include:
|Physical abuse||Being subjected to intentional physical harm by a parent or caregiver, such as through beatings, burnings, or physical punishment that results in injury.|
|Emotional abuse||Verbal assaults, threats, hostility, or indifference from a parent or caregiver that impairs the child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth.|
|Sexual abuse||Any sexual interaction between a child and adult or older child, including exposure, fondling, intercourse, pornography, or internet solicitation.|
|Neglect||Failure of a parent or caregiver to meet a child’s basic physical, emotional, medical, or educational needs.|
|Witnessing violence||Seeing violence or abuse take place, especially violence between parents or caregivers.|
|Loss of loved one||Death or abandonment by a parent, sibling, or other close family member or friend.|
|Natural disasters||Living through a dangerous natural disaster such as a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake.|
|War or terrorism||Experiencing war or terrorism first-hand as a child.|
|Serious accident or illness||Undergoing a highly distressing medical procedure, being in the hospital for a prolonged period, or suffering a serious accident or illness.|
Any of these experiences, especially when they are chronic, repeated, or combine multiple types of trauma, can lead to lasting psychological and health consequences.
How does childhood trauma affect adults?
Childhood trauma can alter the way our brains develop and process fear, stress, and emotion. As a result, adults who experienced childhood trauma may struggle with:
- Difficulty regulating emotions and impulses
- Hypervigilance or feeling constantly “on guard”
- Distrust of other people, avoiding relationships
- Feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or shame
- Flashbacks, upsetting memories, nightmares
- Chronic body pain, fatigue, digestive issues
- Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts
- Risky behaviors like self-harm, substance abuse, or eating disorders
In essence, trauma during childhood can disrupt healthy development, alter our sense of safety and trust, and cause lasting impacts even decades later. The good news is that with support, we can heal and learn to manage these effects.
Is it possible to fully recover from childhood trauma?
Many adults who experienced childhood trauma want to know: will these effects ever go away completely? Can I fully “get over” what happened to me?
The simple answer is that the effects of trauma never disappear entirely. Our brains are shaped by the experiences we have, especially intense ones that occur early in life. Childhood trauma fundamentally changes us and the way we see the world.
However, while trauma stays with us, the way it affects us can change dramatically. The brain and body have a remarkable capacity to heal, adapt, and learn, even in adulthood. With time, effort, and support, it is possible to recover, gain coping skills, and live a fulfilling life despite childhood trauma.
Full recovery involves:
- Processing the traumatic memories and making meaning of them
- Managing trauma-related emotional triggers
- Coping with PTSD and trauma symptoms
- Building self-esteem, confidence, and healthy relationships
- Establishing physical health and wellbeing
This healing process takes time and dedication. It may feel like a rollercoaster where trauma symptoms come and go. But with professional help and self-care, lasting recovery is absolutely attainable.
Is therapy the only way to recover?
Therapy with a trauma-informed mental health provider is often a crucial component of recovering from childhood trauma. The support and guidance of a therapist equips us with the tools and coping skills needed to work through traumatic memories, process emotions, and establish healthy habits.
However, therapy alone is usually not enough. Recovery requires consistent effort through various self-care practices such as:
- Getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga
- Fostering supportive relationships
- Expressing emotions creatively through art, music, or writing
- Exploring spirituality or participating in a faith community
- Engaging in hobbies and activities that bring you joy
A combination of professional treatment and daily self-care empowers survivors to process trauma, rebuild self-worth, and live full lives.
What does recovery look like?
Recovering from childhood trauma is a journey unique to each person. There is no perfect endpoint or finish line for healing. However, many survivors describe common themes in what their recovery process has been like:
- Learning it wasn’t your fault. Trauma survivors often carry unjustified guilt or shame. An essential part of healing is releasing self-blame and understanding you did nothing wrong.
- Feeling deserving of joy. When we are traumatized early in life, it can damage our self-worth. In recovery, survivors increasingly accept happiness and love as something they deserve.
- Establishing healthy boundaries. Processing past violations helps survivors identify appropriate boundaries and stand up for themselves.
- Raising self-awareness. Recovery involves becoming intensely aware of your own emotions, triggers, and needs so you can care for yourself.
- Letting go of anger. Though anger is a natural response to injustice, holding onto it can damage health. Healing involves constructively expressing anger and then releasing it.
- Forgiving those who hurt you. Forgiveness is encouraged for the survivor’s peace of mind, not the abuser. It is challenging but cleansing.
- Feeling empowered. The survivor realizes the strength and resilience it took to endure trauma. This instills deep courage, confidence, and self-worth.
- Reclaiming purpose. Rather than being defined by their trauma, the survivor rediscovers their unique potential and mission in life.
- Living in the present. While memories remain, the survivor comes to accept the past as truly over and to engage fully in each present moment.
- Finding meaning. Making sense of suffering helps trauma lose its power. Survivors often uncover meaning by helping others with similar trauma.
This transformation does not happen overnight. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Healing childhood wounds takes time, courage, and support. But it is truly possible to recover and live a beautiful life.
Tips for coping with childhood trauma
Here are some practical tips to help you start recovering from childhood trauma:
Seek therapy or counseling
Find a licensed therapist who specializes in treating trauma and PTSD. EMDR, cognitive processing therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy are particularly effective. Ask potential therapists about their experience and methods. Therapy provides enormous benefits but it is critical to find the right fit.
Practice self-care daily
Make self-care a high priority every single day. Tend to your own needs through relaxing activities, physical exercise, nutritious eating, positive social connection, and practices like meditation, yoga, or prayer. This restores a sense of stability.
Set healthy boundaries
Identify situations that trigger your trauma, like interacting with abusive family members, then set clear boundaries to protect yourself. You have a right to decide when, how, and if to participate in triggering situations.
Build your support network
Surround yourself with positive people who listen well and support your healing process. Consider joining a support group so you can share experiences with fellow survivors. But communicate your limits and take breaks when needed.
Manage triggers and flashbacks
When you get triggered, use grounding techniques to anchor yourself back in the present moment. Carry grounding objects like stones. Have a plan for getting through painful anniversaries or situations. Over time and with practice, triggers will decrease.
Express your emotions
Bottling up emotions increases trauma’s grip. Release feelings in constructive ways through talking to loved ones, journaling, making art, exercising vigorously, or seeing a counselor. This prevents getting stuck in harmful thought loops.
Be compassionate with yourself
Recovery is a rollercoaster with ups and downs. Criticizing yourself will only worsen the pain. Instead, treat yourself with gentle understanding. Celebrate each small step forward. Progress takes time so be patient.
Consider medication if needed
Consult a doctor about medication to help manage severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD that interfere with daily functioning. Meds can assist the therapy process when used carefully.
Let go of guilt and shame
Make a daily practice of reassuring yourself that you are not to blame and did nothing wrong. Speak kind mantras of self-love and forgiveness out loud or write them in a journal. You deserve to feel good about yourself.
When to seek emergency help
While recovery takes time, it is vital to seek emergency assistance if you experience:
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or suicidal feelings
- Extreme hopelessness
- Debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, or flashbacks
- Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations
- Uncontrollable, risky behaviors
Call a suicide hotline, go to the emergency room, or call a doctor for immediate support. With professional help, these suicidal and severe symptoms can be treated and managed.
Recovering from childhood trauma takes courage, compassion, and consistent effort. It may feel like an uphill battle at times. However, it is absolutely possible to heal, gain coping skills, and live a meaningful life. Be patient with yourself. Draw on every resource available. You have already endured profound hardship and developed immense inner strength. Have faith that there are brighter days ahead. Each small step forward brings you closer to the light.