The Long Term Impacts of Childhood Trauma

The Long Term Impacts of Childhood Trauma

The variety of adversities in life that we can go through is stupendous. What appears to have the deepest impact imprinted on us seems almost invariably to be trauma experienced in childhood.

Childhood trauma in itself can vary greatly depending on the intensity, duration, and support or lack of support when we go through neglect, abuse, misattunement and relational/attachment trauma.

How Trauma Involves the Nervous System

What makes childhood trauma so pervasive is that it affects the developing nervous system and sense of self at such a primary level. Children are vulnerable because they are dependent for their survival on the emotional and physical support of adults.

When that sense of trust and vulnerability has been dishonored, it can possibly create very deep and consistent patterns of withdrawal, distrust, hyperactivity, shut down and depression; you name it.

It is as if the foundations haven’t been laid correctly and the rest of life’s experiences are stacked on top of it and this is certainly crystal clear from the natural, very revealing perspective of the nervous system.

The developing brain successively grows through different developmental stages. From the more primal-survival impulses (i.e. limbic system and brainstem) that, among others, regulates fight, flight, freeze, breathing and swallowing into the greater complexity of dealing with emotions and relationships to self and others (thalamus or mid-brain). And finally, as the icing and cherry on the cake, the neo- and pre-frontal cortex where language, anticipation, communication, and imagination are organized, harmonized and become focused.

This is a rough roadmap, of course, but you get the gist. When no safe security has been established from an early age, too much of our energy becomes invested in our very early, more primal brain structures; fight, flight and freeze for example, and we become deficient in other areas like communication, relating to self and others, and possibly, even motor-coordination.

Neuro-Plasticity and Recovering from Childhood Trauma

Not all is lost, however. Our brains and nervous system, thank goodness, have a fair bit of neuro-plasticity. This, in other words, means that we can have experiences that are corrective, that can re-wire our nervous system, which in turn changes how we relate to ourselves and others.

A lot of this work will consist in re-establishing healthy boundaries by working with anger and changing the pattern of our experiences and perspectives to do with trust and vulnerability. And your best advice would be to work with an experienced therapist who can guide you through all of this with the appropriate, necessary sensibilities.

Did this article resonate with you? Leave your thoughts and comments here below.

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Comments

  1. Daphne  January 19, 2017

    I would like to add that Nero plasticity is definitely the way of the future for the treatment of the population of war veterans police and everyone else who suffers from PTSD.

    reply
    • Roland  January 19, 2017

      Absolutely!

      reply
    • Vanessa  July 21, 2017

      I have recently started strong anti depressants and anti adult nightmare disorder pill. And some others I don’t vendors know. .. my passed is so long and wide and vast and sad and hectic. Yesterday was the 1st time in 36 years I thought of drinking all the pills at once. .. and I am blessed and I have a good life feeling and 2 perfect kids. And a husband who is amazing .. but I am broken

      reply
      • sheri  July 22, 2017

        Vanessa, I am heartbroken reading your honest words. Life is a struggle. Hard for some always. Shitty at best for others. You are doing well in apreciating what you have, with your kids and husband. Have you tried writting about your trauma? Trying to understand therefore releasing its hold over you. Please know someone in Canada is rooting for you. πŸ’™

        reply
      • Connie  July 28, 2017

        You don’t give up you were meant to be here you have alot to live for ❀

        reply
      • monica  August 1, 2017

        Vanessa…I have the same…loving husband.2 x amazingly stunning daughters..I am so blessed…sometimes I realize that this All is the blessings I have for my struggles as a young girl growing up with an alcoholic mother…she has passed…bless her she tried to give the support and love that she did not give me to my 2 daughters….I know im blessed and lucky to have survived…being a decent strong woman in society…I feel I could have evolved into a very bad and lost person which I did not….but Inside of myself…when Im alone….Im nothing more that that vulnerable little girl lookibg and searching for something that is lost out of my childhood, my life, my world…I can feel her screaming sometimes…I want to save her but then I remember I have a life and daughters and a husband and need to be strong….but the Broken little girl will always stay….:(

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        • Annie  September 13, 2017

          Please, the next time your inner child screams at you, stop, embrace her like your own daughters. Tell how loved she is, how worthy and beautiful she is. How the things that happened were not her fault. Wipe her tears and tell it’s ok we’ve got this. Every time you squash all those feelings away they will come back, and stronger until you can no longer live with the emotional pain. And you are forced to put yourself first and heal the pain of your past.πŸ’•

          reply
          • Helena  September 12, 2018

            Lovely words , I often feel like a frightened little girl because of my horrific childhood , I am so proud I had the strength to raise 3 beautiful children and they keep me going I feel all your pain 😞😞😞😞❀️

      • Barbara  August 2, 2017

        You aren’t alone… I’ve had those thoughts a few times myself but then I’m reminded how beautiful and unique broken can be… You can overcome your past… You’ve already come this far… Live and enjoy the love and support that surrounds you and create a better life for your kids! If you could only see yourself through the eyes of your loved ones you will know how cherished you are… Stay strong Vanessa!

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      • Kimberly  August 18, 2017

        I get it. Some days I wish I could wash down a bunch of pills with some vodka. BUT I have 2 beautiful daughters who are my life, the 2 reasons I’m still here. I wish there was a pill that could fix us. Reading these comments feels good. I love you all. We can make it. Look how far we’ve come. ❀️

        reply
    • doni  August 20, 2017

      Neuroplasticity … Nero plasticity would be named for one of the most psychotic of the ‘Caesars’ lol….Although you are not far off from that!

      reply
  2. Julie  February 26, 2017

    Love this clear and simple explanation Roland.

    reply
  3. Julie  March 1, 2017

    Best explanation I have seen on childhood trauma and how it effects the developing nervous system. Very well written.

    reply
  4. Breakthechain17  July 4, 2017

    What a great article! Thabks for putting words on such a huge and deep reality. I call my brain “wired by the trauma”. I am fighting everyday – and it’s becoming easier- to reprogram it.
    Thanks also for telling outloud that we can make it, we can modify those paterns. I am biking 4400km through Canada to proove it and to inspire adult survivors of child sex abuse (we can suffer from PTSD too) to get better.
    Thank you, i needed to read this kind of words after a stressfull day : bad news on the adventure BUT i didnt freakout completely (while i would have burst ibto tears and self destruction coupls of years ago…).i am putting brand new wires in my brain and that feels GOOD!!!

    reply
    • Roland  August 20, 2017

      Brand new wires! Way to go!

      reply
  5. Juhlene  July 4, 2017

    Thank you for insight and hope. Will you please tell us who the artist is of the above image where the mishmash leaves the girl’s chest?

    Thank you ~ J

    reply
    • Roland  July 4, 2017

      Welcome! I am afraid I don’t know the artist’s name.

      reply
  6. Jules  July 20, 2017

    Is there a particular type of therapy or specialist approach we should be seeking in order to specifically address neuro ‘re-wiring’? Or just standard counselling or CBT or…?

    reply
    • Roland  July 20, 2017

      Hi Jules. It really depends on the person you work with and I would say if he/she can think/work outside of the box. On a personal note I believe in a synergy of a cognitive and somatic approach in dealing with trauma. Best.

      reply
      • Dennis  August 12, 2017

        I’m a little confused about what you mean by your statement Roland. A “synergy of cognitive and somatic”. By “cognitive”, are you referring to the mind and senses? And by “somatic”, are you saying that the healing of past injuries are stored in the body as well? In which case, perhaps massage work would help, in addition to whatever positive effects can be garnered with the help of neuroplasticity (for the mind and senses).

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        • Roland  August 17, 2017

          You need the cognitive part (our thought capacity) to create a healthy frame work to address trauma and not fall back into old patterns and one needs the somatic part to really work through the emotional residue that is stored within the body/nervous system. Massage can help for some, can also be triggering for others. In itself it is not enough to resolve deep seated trauma but it is a good addition to one’s effort to heal.

          reply
  7. Hendry  July 20, 2017

    Thank you for such an interesting article, it is plain and simple to understand and many many people out there can relate to the damaging affects of childhood drama. I was brutally abused by an alcoholic aggresive abusive real dad and stepdad and today i have many shortcomings and suffer from depression and withdrawal from Society and family and friends and I know it all stems from the very violent primary years of my life. Let us learn from experience and protect our beautiful and vulnerable children.

    reply
    • Roland  July 20, 2017

      Hi Hendry. Thanks for your comment and let us indeed create a better future for ourselves and loved ones.

      reply
  8. Willow  July 31, 2017

    A very well written and comprehensible article. It is a long hard road, and if I am still here then there is hope for everyone suffering the effects of all kinds of trauma. It is important and helpful to have a basic understanding of the physical dynamics, and this encapsulates it.

    reply
    • Roland  August 20, 2017

      Great. Thanks for your comment!

      reply
  9. Vanessa  August 7, 2017

    I’m a 29 year old warrior of childhood sexual abuse. My life has been a rollercoaster with alot of sudden drops. I didn’t understand myself until recently, I didn’t know why I reacted to things the way I did, I didn’t know why I kept hurting myself and others I care about. Then, after a bad bout of PTSD (a new trauma which in effect brought up everything from my past) my doctor and counselor got me into a self-esteem group therapy class held at our local hospital. In just 8 weeks it changed me, it helped me understand myself and my past and how it correlates to my life now, raising a daughter on my own, terrified that the same things would happen to her. I’m happy to say I’m changing the way my brain was wired in childhood and in effect improving my daughter’s life. She deserves to have a strong, fearless, warrior of a mother, and that’s what I’m becoming! Thank you for this article!

    reply
  10. Sam  August 11, 2017

    I had been suffering for years of something I couldn’t identify. Toxic relationships in all forms since childhood and health issues which were never addressed. The constant ignorance and denial of those around me and myself had caused my ultimate nervous breakdown and 3 suicide attempts. I am currently receiving treatment to keep my Bipolarity.manic depression and epilepsy in check. I need to do this research. Maybe understanding how a life long journey of different trauma, injuries and abuse has a physiological affect on the brain will help me in implementing new healing techniques and a certain sense that it’s ok to be the way I am

    reply
  11. Jackie J  August 13, 2017

    I was adopted at birth and agree wholeheartedly with this description of the effects of early trauma. Babies are born knowing their mothers; so when we’re taken from her at or shortly after birth, it causes a deep wound. Before anyone feels the need to shout me down with “aren’t you just grateful you weren’t aborted?”, “I guess they should have let you rot in an orphanage!”, “What should we do with all the ‘unwanted’ babies?”, “What about those precious infertile couples? Shouldn’t they be able to buy a womb-wet infant?”, or some other willfully ignorant comment designed to silence any adult adopter who dares to speak of loss, know this. Yes, sometimes it’s necessary for a child to be raised apart from his natural family. I would never advocate for children to remain in an abusive situation, but even then there is loss that needs to be acknowledged. Sorry to go off topic, but I wanted to preempt any attempts to claim breaking the mother/child bond is inconsequential.

    reply
    • Jackie J  August 13, 2017

      ***adult ADOPTEE who dares to speak….

      reply
  12. Michelle  August 16, 2017

    Hi, my abuse started the min I was born my parents tried to kill me more then once. I was also sold into prostitution. I don’t trust anyone and never have. I have been abused for 22 years. I am 50 and in therapy and have started to remember all of my torture, sexually abuse, rape and trauma

    reply
  13. Doni  August 20, 2017

    My parents wouldn’t bother selling me…they were so self-involved, if they heard or saw me I got the crap beat out of me. My dad had enough and found a good wife, left us with the nazi hateful mother…I’m 54. A few weeks ago she gave me money (I’m disabled-applied for disability in 2013-and have spent every dime of my $100,000 savings/investments because [according to my doctor] Disability tries to ‘wait’ sick people out….If they aren’t dead in 3-4 years, sometimes they will approve it, other times they give you $500/month …. that doesn’t even cover medical insurance….that I do not have), I was so shocked mom gave me money out of the ‘blue’, I thanked her saying, ‘this is the only time you’ve ever given me money without putting me down (did I mention I’m blind in my left eye because of her, and can barely walk)….Her response, “Oh you are fine, you can always go live with your step mom.”

    So you see, i have nothing to live for…When I had money i lived to help my friends, and people I didn’t know that well, but that i saw needed money. I’m not evil, so why is this happening and how can i leave this family i can’t bear to know are walking around sanctimonious when they’ve killed my soul?

    reply
  14. Ben  September 7, 2017

    I am survivor of a child abuse & had finally accepted that even after 35 years, it will be never the same. When I read the above article, I can relate more of physical abuse, what about sexual & verbal abuses ? I had gone thru all above when I was a kid & it’s not easy even for a matured guy like me. Thanks for this great article, you had explained it in simple words which I had struggled all my life to express

    reply
    • Roland  September 7, 2017

      Good to have you here Ben.

      reply
  15. Gina  October 20, 2017

    This article did resonate with me— greatly. I’ve known that those of us with these types of childhoods don’t develop in the same ways that normally nurtured children do. I have been in therapy (as I have stated before) for 25 years seeking answers for the hell that I went through. It’s just now, with my current psychologist that I am gaining and achieving healing. I am doing EMDR therapy — and re-mapping my traumatic memory brain strands. It is not fun to go back through these events — yet I know that this is a necessity. It has brought me to a place where I finally believe that healing is possible and I no longer am predominately “fixed” on what happened to me. I know that I will one day finish – and I can now envision it. I realize that I will always have issues, of course, however, one day they won’t dictate every aspect of my life. : )

    reply
  16. Jacqueline  February 7, 2018

    Very healing and supporting to read this. Thank you.

    reply
  17. Doug  April 15, 2018

    I too was adopted. My parents could not have children. Four months after they adopted me my mother was pregnant. Two natural children. I was neglected and shamed. I was physically beat by my father and psychology abused by my mother. It took me years to get over the brainwashing. Or so I thought. A couple of years ago at about 60 years old I was in a accident at work and got burned very badly. 60%. The PTSD and somatic pain reactions have started to show the foundation my core beliefs were built on. I am still trying to find a way out. It makes me feel very small. I will find a way though.

    reply
  18. Joanne  April 16, 2018

    Am nearly 51 years old.
    Your post regarding childhood development evokes exactly my experience of life.
    Until recently, when I have come to acknowledge I feel about two years old.
    All my life I have functioned truly embodying adrenal emptyness. Contact with others was beyond reason .. so scary. I used alcohol in order to ‘bring myself up to’ what I witnessed as the way other people managed to be human.
    Alcohol and the years and years of talking therapy, psychiatric support, social services, etc did nothing because whilst I accept all had good intentions, nothing, and I mean Nothing helped because contact did not exist for me as a safe natural function.
    Slowly, slowly am beginning to give space to adrenaline and panic and fear and bodily blood going all pumping pushing against the walls of my skin .. so that touch, sound, sight, my sense are in an impossible to process state.
    Slowly, am wanting to understand why I live like this .. and that surely there has to be more to living than just being chaos in nerves, frazzled in fear .. fear of teachers, postmen, supermarket assistants .. slowly, I have fallen into myself .. .. I feel so very overwhelmed, but real .. but upset that I didnt see it sooner .. that I didnt know there was no point in destroying myself for no reason .. because my children were little .. and ..
    Sorry for long post.
    I am finding even this knowledge .. and your kind truths hard to process Roland, because if I wasn’t who I was .. then how can I forgive myself for all those times upon times when I was so frightened, so so loathed every cell in my body day in day out .. for years ..? so unfathomably a being of disgust and vile, I believed I was disgusting totally without question, and couldn’t understand why if I weren’t rotten filthy to the core, a disgusting worthless human being and non existent enough, I couldnt even parent my two beautiful lovely children ? if that wasn’t me but it is how I lived, then where do I put my responsibility please ?
    ..
    I love your writings Roland, I feel them .. am trying to wonder whether to try your audio help and support as I have tried listening to you on the sample and find your voice very soothing and .. so gently slow and safe.
    Thank You.
    So grateful for your voice, to everyone here .. my heart goes out to you all.

    reply

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