Childhood Trauma – What Is It?
Childhood trauma is a scary phrase. It brings to mind children that are physically abused, not fed or sexually molested. Unfortunately, that is the childhood experience that some have endured. But childhood trauma encompasses a much broader experience as well.
In the mid-90’s, researchers conducted a huge study to find out if there was a connection between childhood experiences and obesity. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found that the more traumatic events that a child went through, the more likely they would have physical, mental and emotional problems as an adult. This pyramid gives a visual example and you can find more information about the study results at SAMHSA.
Back to childhood trauma. Merriam-Webster’s definition for trauma is “an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent.” A trauma is a hurt caused by an outside force. An unkind word. A disruption to safety. An attack to the identity. With this understanding, it’s much easier to understand that ALL children experience trauma. When I tell my child no, or set a boundary, it hurts.
The difference with childhood trauma is that the attacks are continual, unexpected and undefined. They are words and actions that convey to a child that their personal experience and understanding is wrong.
Verbal abuse (“Why are you so stupid!” “Shut up!”), emotional neglect (lack of affectionate touch, inability to express how you feel without being contradicted), and an authoritarian environment (the child is not allowed to be heard or is always wrong) are very common in our culture and the effects on a child can be devastating.
If your childhood experiences involved a lot of this, the result is likely to be childhood trauma, a type of Complex PTSD.
Find out your ACEs score here