It is often said that time heals all wounds. With a little bit of patience and some dedicated self-care, we can make it through painful experiences such as loss, heartbreak, and rejection, growing stronger as we do. Breaking up with a long-time lover, losing a cherished career, or grieving the loss of a special pet… these are all examples of wounds that time will likely heal. However, not all wounds can be healed with emotional perseverance and the organic passing of time. Sometimes, we undergo experiences so deeply traumatic that they become engrained in our psyches. These experiences may stay with us for years, affecting us in ways we never imagined possible. Our interpersonal relationships may begin to suffer, we may begin struggling to maintain balance in our lives, and deep-seated feelings of shame and self-loathing may begin bubbling to the surface at seemingly inappropriate times. Many individuals who suffer from unresolved trauma will eventually turn to alcohol and drugs in order to deal with these unwanted emotional and psychological symptoms.
Unresolved Trauma and Substance Abuse
Unresolved trauma will not heal itself over time. In most cases, individuals who are dealing with the unwanted effects of past traumatic experiences will need to undergo intensive therapeutic counseling, and may need to seek help for any related disorders that have cropped up over the years. Some adults will not recognize that they are dealing with unresolved trauma because the traumatic event or circumstance occurred during childhood. In order to understand how seriously childhood trauma can impact the quality of an adult life, and to better understand ways in which to prevent potential trauma from occurring, it is important that we define exactly what a ‘traumatic experience’ might entail.
Trauma in Childhood – What is Trauma?
Research suggests that between 14 and 43 percent of all children nationwide have undergone some degree of traumatic experience. Essentially, childhood trauma can result from anything that makes a child feel unsafe, insecure, inadequate, threatened, or helpless, and can include: physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, an unstable or unsafe household, witnessing domestic abuse, separation from a parent or guardian, neglect, bullying, intrusive medical procedures, serious illnesses, or living through a natural disaster. These are several of the most common types of childhood trauma, but this list is not all-inclusive. It is important to remember that children will respond to potentially traumatic experiences in highly variant and personal ways. For example, one child may be bitten by a dog, and heal within a week, going on to become a veterinarian later on in life. Another child may be bitten by a dog, and live in fear of animals for the remainder of his life. One child may be relatively unaffected by the divorce of his parents, understanding that a separation was best for both parties. Another child may be gravely affected by the divorce of his parents. He may harbor deep feelings of insecurity and fear relating to abandonment and romantic love long into his adult life.
Symptoms of Childhood Trauma
Children may experience a wide range of emotional, psychological, and physical responses to trauma. If you have a young child who is undergoing any of the following symptoms, or if you can recall undergoing any of the following symptoms yourself, it is likely that there is some underlying trauma that needs to be addressed and resolved with intensive therapeutic care.
- Recurring nightmares
- Flashbacks of the event
- Feelings of anxiety and fear related to safety
- Anxiety surrounding death/dying at an early age
- Age regression (acting younger than actual age)
- Somatic complaints (headache, stomach ache, chronic pain)
- Low self-esteem
- Self-destructive behavior
- Sexually inappropriate behavior
- Substance abuse
- Avoiding situations that may evoke unwanted memories
- Significant changes in sleep or appetite
It is imperative that any individual who is experiencing symptoms of trauma seek professional help sooner rather than later. Symptoms of unresolved childhood trauma can (and likely will) get progressively worse over time if they are left untreated. These symptoms can show up in both children and adults. If you or someone you love has suffered a traumatic experience and has not thoroughly and effectively healed, it is important to recognize that it is never too late. Childhood trauma may result in far-reaching and long-lasting consequences – but these consequences can be resolved with appropriate, intensive, and individualized care. However, the sooner trauma is addressed, the easier it is to overcome. Reach out today.