Understanding Early Childhood Trauma

As described by Georg Schomerus in his research called Stigma as a Barrier to Addressing Childhood Trauma in Conversation with Trauma Survivors: A Study in the General Population, childhood trauma is a well-established risk factor for future mental health problems. It increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe mental disorders like anxiety or depression.

“But kids are resilient.” Do they always have to be? People often say that we should never underestimate the ability of children to be resilient in the face of adversity – but putting it that way only ignores the possible traumas they are experiencing. These traumas aren’t something that only resilience can overcome.

What is Early Childhood Trauma?

Early childhood trauma is caused by extremely distressing experiences that children may face. These traumas can come from natural disasters, community violence, neglect, or abuse. Early childhood traumas are often hard to process leaving children believing that they can’t rely on anyone. This can lead them down a dark path that has negative long-term effects.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8, Fourth Edition – a book by the National Association for the Education of Young Children – tells us how important early childhood support is. Positive reinforcement promotes optimal development across social, cultural, historical, and emotional contexts of development. On the other hand, trauma completely negates these developments and cages children in a perpetual cycle of self-loathing, doubts, and emotional damage.

How Can Early Childhood Trauma Affect Children and Adults Growing Up?

Early childhood trauma can have long-term repercussions. As we previously discussed in our blog post on ‘Diaper Need’, even the lack of diaper supply can have severe mental, emotional, and developmental impacts on children and parents. While some may think that these problems are small and insignificant, trauma is trauma. It isn’t easily forgotten, especially for children’s developing brains.

Effects of Trauma

Trauma reshapes both body and brain

In his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk — one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma — reveals that trauma can transform us. It reshapes our body and brain, compromising our capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.

Early childhood trauma might not seem as if it could affect a person in the long run. But trauma, no matter when it happens in life, can fundamentally change people. Early childhood trauma is linked to changes in personality and poor emotion regulation. It can also affect a child’s mental health and their response to various stimuli.

Trauma increases the risk of physical health conditions

The common perception involving childhood trauma is that it can only affect a child’s emotional and mental state. However, trauma can also greatly affect one’s physical condition. The body can respond to emotional stress and manifest it as physical stress.

Experts found elevated protein (S100B) levels in children who had experienced trauma. This is associated with damaging inflammation in the brain. Alarming levels of stress hormones brought on by trauma can also make children prone to developing lasting health problems.

Trauma is one of the root causes of most addictions

Margret Torshamar Georgsdottir’s study, “This Is the Result of Something Else”: Experiences of Men That Abused Drugs and Had Experienced Childhood Trauma – revealed that those who experienced childhood trauma are prone to abusing drugs as coping mechanisms in their adulthood.

Traumatic experiences that stem from childhood are often disregarded and left untreated. This leads to poor quality of life and various personality disorders. Sadly, those who didn’t seek help or those who didn’t even know they need help used addiction as a coping mechanism. Being under the influence of a substance allowed these people to feel as if they can cope with everyday life.