Early childhood trauma can often be especially harmful. Trauma in early childhood generally refers to events that occur after birth but before the age of six. The brain grows rapidly during this period, and experiences can have a lasting effect on cognitive development and emotional well-being.
Young children are also very dependent on caregivers for care, nurture and protection. This can make young children especially vulnerable to trauma in a variety of ways. When trauma occurs early in life, it can affect a child’s development, as well as their ability to attach securely—especially when the trauma occurs with a caregiver.
Childhood trauma can occur when a child is exposed to overwhelming negative events or circumstances in early life. Numerous studies have documented the psychological effects of witnessing domestic violence, experiencing the death of a family member, being neglected by parents, or being abused by a caregiver.
In addition, trauma can occur within relationships, such as those involving abuse, assault, neglect, violence, exploitation or bullying. Interpersonal trauma is defined as trauma that occurs between people.
Children can also be negatively impacted by traumatic events, such as accidents, natural disasters, war and civil unrest, medical procedures, or the sudden loss of a parent or caregiver through death, divorce, separation or imprisonment.
Childhood Trauma Symptoms in Adults:
Childhood trauma in adults can manifest in a variety of ways, including what I call “body problems.”
Here are some of the signs I see most often:
Hypervigilance is the first sign of trauma-related anxiety. Trauma survivors describe feeling like they’re always waiting to be attacked, blamed, or criticized. They may also talk about how difficult it is to trust their partners even though they logically know they can.
The most common signs I see in my practice are difficulty in relationships and emotional reactivity. For example, clients may feel emotionally reactive at home and create stress for themselves and their family members. Or they may avoid relationships altogether, which can lead to loneliness and isolation.
A third common sign I see in my practice is depression and problems with mood. Some adult survivors struggle with hopelessness, feeling little motivation or joy. Physical ailments are common, including insomnia and sleep problems, immune system impairment, headaches, fatigue, and pain. Doctors say that stress and anxiety cause most gastrointestinal problems.
An overactive nervous system and brain stuck in the fight-or-flight mode of “high alert” can cause anxiety and worry. It is well established that childhood trauma or other negative experiences are often a sign of depression, as one client described trying to “bat away the constant worries,” One patient described trying to “unstick” his brain when he could not stop dwelling on all the imaginary things that could go wrong.
The fear that one’s own body and mind is somehow going to betray them is another sign that an adult child of a narcissist may experience. Many of my clients tell me how they suffer from this dread, fearing that they are mentally ill and will snap the way their narcissistic parent did. Or that panic attacks or anger will overcome them.