Childhood trauma can leave a lasting impact on an individual’s life. Unfortunately, this impact doesn’t always fade away with time. In fact, many people find that their childhood trauma resurfaces later in life, sometimes even decades after the initial experience. In this blog post, we will explore why childhood trauma resurfaces and how to identify the signs.
Why Childhood Trauma Resurfaces
When childhood trauma resurfaces, it can be for a multitude of reasons, some less obvious than others. The most common reasons include:
- Triggers: Triggers are events or situations that remind a person of their traumatic experience. These can be anything from a certain smell or sound to a specific situation or object. If you experienced parental trauma growing up, even if your relationships are repaired now, seeing or spending time with the traumatizing parent can continue to be a huge trigger. When a trigger occurs, it can bring back memories and emotions associated with the trauma.
- Stress: People who experienced childhood trauma learned reasons to feel stressed and how to cope with those feelings at a very young age, potentially before they had the capacity to do calming exercises like deep breathing and talking about the experiences. Stress can be a major trigger if you have not been in therapy for your trauma or learned healthy coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress.
- Lack of Support: The sooner a child is able to get the help they need regarding their trauma, the less impactful it will be later in life. If you experienced trauma over a long period of time and believed it was normal as a child, you likely didn’t receive support until you were much older and grew up believing that any “punishments” inflicted on you were deserved. If you continue to lack support as you enter adulthood, your brain will continue to believe that you deserve the bad experiences you have in adulthood.
- Time: Unfortunately, childhood trauma is one of the few wounds that time alone cannot heal. When a child is placed in a high-stress environment with no support system, they learn faulty coping mechanisms and false beliefs that they carry with them into adulthood. This means that even when you’re not thinking about your trauma, it informs your decisions, thoughts, and feelings.
Identifying the Signs
It can be difficult to identify when childhood trauma is resurfacing, as the signs can vary depending on the individual. However, there are a few common signs to look out for:
- Flashbacks: Flashbacks are sudden and vivid memories of a traumatic event. When childhood trauma resurfaces, a person may experience flashbacks of the event, even if they have not thought about it in years. You may also find yourself turning over old memories in your head that were adjacent to your trauma, especially if you don’t have many memories of the trauma itself. In general, dwelling on the past is a sign that childhood trauma has resurfaced.
- Avoidance: Avoidance is a common coping mechanism for those who have experienced trauma. When childhood trauma resurfaces, a person may avoid situations or people that remind them of the trauma. This can be difficult to pinpoint sometimes; many people who experienced childhood trauma develop social anxiety later in life, and this is one of the mechanisms of avoidance– if you learn that people can behave unpredictably and put you in danger, then it only makes sense to avoid people in order to mitigate those unpredictable dangers, right?
- Emotional Numbness: Childhood trauma can cause a person to shut down emotionally. When the trauma resurfaces, a person may feel emotionally numb or detached from their emotions. If you feel this way frequently, it is important to talk to a therapist. Dissociation is a symptom of trauma, and a trauma-informed therapist is vital to bringing you out of these moments of numbness.
- Anxiety and Depression: Anxiety and depression are common symptoms of childhood trauma. As mentioned above, this can play into avoidance of traumatizing situations and dissociation. Treating your childhood trauma will help, but takes time. Managing your anxiety and depression in the meantime can be useful.
- Self-Destructive Behaviors: Childhood trauma can cause a person to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-harm. These can also include behaviors like nail biting, skin picking, and trichotillomania, or hair-pulling. When the trauma resurfaces, a person may be more likely to engage in these behaviors.
- Physical Symptoms: Childhood trauma can manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension. Chronic pain is common in people who experienced trauma. When the trauma resurfaces, a person may experience an increase in these symptoms.
How to Address Childhood Trauma
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of childhood trauma resurfacing, it is essential to seek help. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Talk to a Mental Health Professional: Mental health professionals are trained to help people who have experienced trauma. They can provide therapy and other interventions to help a person cope with their trauma.
- Build a Support System: It is essential to have a support system when dealing with childhood trauma. This can include friends, family, or support groups. Having people to talk to and lean on can make a significant difference in the healing process.
- Practice Self-Care: Self-care is essential when dealing with childhood trauma. This can include activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature. Self-care can help a person manage their emotions and reduce stress.
As always, if you are noticing an increase in mental health symptoms within yourself or a loved one, it is incredibly important to talk to a professional, especially if you have a history of trauma. At Modern Era Counseling, our trauma-informed therapists can help you overcome your symptoms in the short term, and help you process your childhood trauma in the long term. If you live in the Charlotte area, give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or click here to learn more and get started on your journey to good mental health today.