How childhood trauma affects adulthood: Hidden costs & tips for healing

How childhood trauma affects adulthood: Hidden costs & tips for healing

Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence, play, and exploration. Unfortunately, for many people, it’s marred by traumatic events that can leave pretty severe scars. Childhood trauma takes many forms, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. These experiences can lead to consequences for the victim that last a lifetime. If this feels familiar to you, understanding how childhood trauma affects adulthood is the key to starting your healing journey.

Understanding Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma refers to experiences that are physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and occur before the age of 18. Traumatic experiences can take many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse: hitting, kicking, or other forms of physical harm
  • Emotional abuse: verbal or emotional attacks, neglect, or rejection
  • Neglect: a caregiver or parent repeatedly fails to meet a child’s basic physical, developmental, or emotional needs
  • Household dysfunction: parental divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, or incarceration
  • Sexual abuse: any form of sexual activity involving a child

Moreover, the effects of childhood trauma can vary depending on the severity, frequency, and duration. Some people may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or other mental health problems due to traumatic experiences.

How Childhood Trauma Affects Adulthood

Childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects on a person’s physical, emotional, and mental health. Here are some of the ways that childhood trauma can affect adulthood:


Childhood trauma can lead to the development of anxiety and depression in adulthood. Trauma can disrupt the brain’s normal functioning and alter the stress response system. This can result in a heightened state of fear and hypervigilance in adulthood, making it difficult for individuals to manage their emotions and cope with stress.

Additionally, a constant state of hypervigilance can make you feel overwhelmed by your emotions often. This may cause you to numb yourself to them, which can develop into alexithymia, or the inability to identify your emotions, in adulthood. On the other hand, the overwhelm can contribute even more to anxiety, causing problems with regulating your emotions or even shutting down when things become overwhelming.

Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Childhood trauma can also affect a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Traumatic experiences can lead to shame, guilt, and self-blame, especially when the abuser remains in your life throughout adolescence. Constant reminders of your abuse juxtaposed with a family dynamic that doesn’t match your previous experiences can cause self-doubt and even questioning whether the abuse really happened. 

It doesn’t feel good to always wonder if you were wrong about what happened, and it feels even worse when the people around you deny any wrongdoing. All of these things can cause you to develop feelings of self-doubt that extend to other areas in your life, such as school, work, and other relationships.

Substance Abuse

Trauma can also increase the likelihood of substance abuse in adulthood. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape the emotional pain caused by their traumatic experiences. As mentioned above, childhood trauma can also lead to emotional dysregulation in adulthood, which can make managing difficult emotions even harder.

Additionally, individuals who have experienced childhood trauma are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and may struggle with impulse control.

Relationship Problems

Childhood trauma can also affect a person’s ability to form healthy relationships in adulthood. Traumatic experiences during childhood can lead to difficulties with attachment and intimacy, as you may struggle with trust and fear abandonment. This can make it incredibly difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships in adulthood.

Furthermore, you may struggle with setting boundaries and tend to over-give in relationships, and you may find that when people set boundaries with you, it can feel like rejection. This ties into the self-doubt and emotional regulation issues also caused by childhood trauma.

Healing from Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

While childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects, healing and moving forward are absolutely possible. Here are some tips for healing from childhood trauma:

Seek Professional Help

One of the most important things you can do to heal from childhood trauma is to seek professional help. A therapist can help you process your experiences, develop coping skills, and work through any lingering trauma.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is an integral part of the healing process. Make sure to prioritize self-care activities like exercise, mindfulness, and healthy eating.

Build a Support System

Building a support system of friends and family members who understand what you are going through can be a valuable source of comfort and encouragement.

Develop Coping Skills

Learning healthy coping skills can help you manage your emotions and cope with stress in a healthy way. Meditation, deep breathing, and journaling are all effective coping strategies.

Seek Professional Help

A trauma-informed therapist can be a boon with regard to how childhood trauma affects adulthood. They can help you process difficult memories, question negative beliefs, and help you live a more open and fulfilling life. To learn more about how the trauma-informed therapists at Modern Era Counseling can help guide you to a less overwhelming, more fulfilling life, give us a call or fill out our contact form to get started now.

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