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Childhood trauma symptoms in adults


Childhood trauma symptoms in adults lead to parenting issues if not dealt with before the start of parenthood. Recognising the signs of trauma in different aspects of your life and doing the work to understand the root of great trauma is an important step in preparing yourself for parenting. You can better prevent your own children from experiencing the same types of trauma. 

Adults with childhood trauma are not always able to identify or address their trauma throughout their lifetimes. They may not even be aware of childhood trauma as a concept or the potential effects of childhood trauma.


What is childhood trauma?

Childhood trauma has been defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV and V as “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence”. It includes anything from seeing, hearing about or directly experiencing trauma.

This means that trauma does not have to have been directly inflicted on you as a child in order for you to be affected by it well into your adulthood. You only need to have heard about it or seen it being experienced by someone else and it could impact you for the rest of your life. 

Individuals who have experienced traumatic events in their childhood are likely to have mental health conditions further down the line that may require some trauma focused therapy.

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In relation to childhood trauma, people are usually speaking about trauma that occurs to children between the ages of 0-6 years old. There are also different classifications of childhood trauma.

Classifications of childhood trauma

In a study conducted with alcohol-dependent subjects, researchers pointed out five different categories of childhood trauma:

  1. Emotional neglect. This is where a parent or parents do not get to know their children for who they are. They do not understand, for example, the things that give their children joy or what makes them feel fear. They are not interested in trying to understand them.
  2. Emotional abuse. This occurs where a child experiences emotional maltreatment on a long term and continuous basis. 
  3. Physical neglect. The Child Abuse Prevention Center defines physical neglect as “negligent treatment or the maltreatment of child by a person responsible for the child’s welfare, including both acts and/or omission of care”.
  4. Physical abuse. Physical abuse can be defined as occuring where “a child’s body is injured as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other show of force.”
  5. Sexual abuse. In 1999, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined child sexual abuse as sexual activity that the child does not fully understand, “is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent”, or that is legally or socially taboo. 

It is possible for children to experience more than one of these forms of child abuse at a time. This is because for each classification, there are different ways that they can be inflicted on a child. Those are the various types of childhood trauma.


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Some types of childhood trauma

Childhood trauma can occur in so many different ways that it is difficult to give a complete list without accounting for the individual experiences of every single person who has ever endured childhood trauma. The predominant forms of abuse experienced in childhood will even differ by culture, level of literacy, and geography, to name a few.

To start with though, we can point out the following 11 more commonly considered types of trauma.

  1. Bullying in school
  2. Parental divorce or separation
  3. Abject poverty
  4. Rape
  5. Attempted rape
  6. Witnessing addiction
  7. Discipline by physical violence 
  8. Death of a primary caregiver
  9. Natural disasters
  10. Terrorist attacks
  11. Witnessing domestic violence
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I am sure you can think of many more. From either your own experience or from hearing other people’s experiences with different types of trauma, you may be able to distinguish what classification they come under. 

Then again, it might be hard for you to tell if you have experienced childhood trauma before, or if someone you know has experienced it and is affected by it in their adulthood. There are signs to look out for and I will list a few below.

9 symptoms of childhood trauma in adults

How does childhood trauma affect you later in life?  

  1. Memory deficits from subconsciously trying to block out traumatic memories
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Poor sleep or insomnia
  4. Obesity
  5. Nightmares 
  6. Lack of concentration
  7. Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP). This can be defined as “a pervasive pattern of emotional dysregulation, impulsiveness, unstable sense of identity and difficult interpersonal relationships”. 
  8. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  9. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Note that some of the above symptoms of childhood trauma in adults can also manifest as signs of post traumatic stress disorder.

Any of these disorders could indicate past trauma in an adult. However there are several more symptoms of childhood trauma in adults and the best way to get diagnosed is by a professional.

A professional will not only be able to diagnose you but also provide you with the best therapy for your specific situation.

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3 of the Therapies provided for childhood trauma in adults

  1. Medication 
  2. Eye-movement desensitisation and re-processing (EMDR)
  3. Cognitive Processing Therapy (a type of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

Are you embarking on parenthood and wondering whether you may be about to pass on your trauma to your child?


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9 thoughts on “Childhood trauma symptoms in adults”

  1. Growing up in a south asian household, it was thought to be completely normal and even encouraged to hit your children into obedience. My parents understand now that this isn’t the way but unfortunately most of that damage is already done. I grew up a very very shy, quiet and almost timid child because of this. I’m trying to do better with my own little guy now because I certainly don’t want him to deal with these things as he grows up. I think it can be quite difficult for kids to comprehend all this and eventually leads to them not being so close to their parents in adulthood.

  2. This was a very informative article! Thanks for sharing! When I taught in the urban core, a lot of our students dealt with childhood trauma which impacted them on a daily basis.

  3. I can absolutely see how these traumas from childhood can result in these different symptoms as adults. Thank you for sharing this article. So informative!

  4. very interesting, informative and unique article.. thanks for sharing

  5. Amanda

    A very important read. Thank you for this information. It’s very sad when any child is going through trauma. I cannot imagine the process they need to go through to heal.

  6. I consider myself extremely lucky not having exerienced any kind of trauma. I think your post is very informative and I completely agree that adults should address this issue before embarking parenthood.

  7. Amber

    Having been a victim of childhood trauma and ptsd this article is so informative and very much appreciated. It’s so important to talk about these issues.

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