Understanding what is childhood trauma is important when you are starting your healing journey.
I will be explaining what makes a childhood traumatic. Many times we struggle to accept some of the things we have been through saying that it wasn’t that bad and people have gone through much worse.
But it is really important to try and put yourself back in the position of a young child and how you would have felt. How you would have coped as a child.
With that being said, I will be also looking at What childhood trauma means, and ways you could experience trauma. I will also explore with you whether or not you should blame your parents and then end with what you could do next if you feel you have experienced trauma.
Two definitions of trauma from the DSM-V and the ACEs Study
There are quite a few definitions of what Childhood Trauma is. According to the American Diagnostic Statistical Manual V. criteria for trauma leading to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) now include not only direct exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation, but also the witnessing of such traumatic events, learning about such events happening to a close family member or friend.
There was a study conducted by the Centre for Disease Control, also in America. They studied the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on 17,000 adults. I have a link to the study here.
They gave each of the participants a survey asking about 10 different types of traumatic childhood experiences and if they experienced them before the age of 18. The study showed a direct link between experiencing many of the issues raised in this study and health complications as a result of those traumatic events.
However, the definition from the American Diagnostic Manual and this, Adverse Childhood Experiences ACEs study, for me, doesn’t explain the full picture of trauma that a child could experience. It doesn’t explain the child’s lived experiences.
Because we can always look back on our childhood and say it wasn’t that bad. But a child experiencing it, would not feel that way. Because that situation would be so overwhelming for the child, and a child would not be able to cope. A child can’t cope with what we can cope with as adults.
The Reality of Trauma for a Child
However, for me, they don’t explain the often persistent and repeated nature of trauma that a child can also experience. Also, how it can be unpredictable. Also when the child grows to feel that the situation is totally hopeless and would never change.
Again, I must stress how important it is, to put yourself in the position of a child experiencing the things that you did.
An event or a number of events, the environment you live in or your life situation you experienced that left you feeling vulnerable as a child. The main thing about this is that it would result in trauma and you couldn’t, unfortunately, count on your family or other people, for whatever reason, to keep you safe.
It is important now to accept that a child could experience trauma without being touched. Without experiencing sexual abuse or physical abuse. Your parents could have taken care of your physical wellbeing where you had yearly holidays, you were well fed, etc but you still experienced trauma. Especially Emotional and Psychological abuse. I will explain more about this in the rest of this in another podcast coming soon.
Could you cope with it?
Did you find it difficult?
Did you find it impossible?
Was there anyone around to support you?
Was there anyone around to make sense of what was happening for you?
All these questions and many more are so important. Which I will go into in this blog.
Rothchild (2000) definition of Trauma – my preferred one
I prefer this definition of trauma identified by someone called Rothchild. He or she distinguished between two types of traumas.
There is type one Trauma and type 2 Trauma. Type 1 trauma is basically when something happens, you know what it is and that affects you. That’s more related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Where there is a single event and you know what that event is and you can see what and why it has caused you the problems it has.
This definition goes further. You’ve got two types of trauma within the 2nd type of trauma. Try and follow me here. Remember I mentioned two types of trauma, type 1 and type 2. But within type two trauma there are two. There are type A and type B.
Type A Consists of Multiple Traumas. Even with those multiple traumas, no matter how bad things were. The person who experienced those multiple traumas would have benefited from a relatively stable background, and have sufficient resources and support to help them to get through that.
Then on the other side, on the flip side of the coin. You have type 2 B type of trauma it is complex where there are so many layers and so many factors but it all amounts to the individual feeling, thinking, and seeing the world in a certain way.
Where the person could still experience the same thing from type two trauma but for the person here, the trauma is completely overwhelming and it affects them in a negative way because they don’t have sufficient support and resources to help them get through it.
To understand what they have gone through and how it has affected them. To understand how they can live their life going forward
You could see here that two different people going through the same thing. One person would almost thrive, learn from it and move on, going through the same thing. But somebody else going through the exact same thing but it would almost tear them down.
I have explained this further in a separate blog on Types of Trauma. It is because of those factors that I’m going to mention later on in the blog. That would make those two same experiences for different people, completely different.
Less obvious types of Childhood Traumas
It is also important to remember that a child can experience trauma without being touched. That’s without experiencing sexual or any sort of physical abuse. Your parents could have also taken great care of your physical well-being. Where you had things like annual holidays, you were well-fed and your family appeared to be quite loving and kind.
But you can still experience trauma.
Especially Emotional and Psychological abuse. I will do a separate video on that very same subject. Hopefully coming soon, so please look out for that.
There are other less obvious experiences in childhood can be just as traumatic for a child and have just as serious long-term consequences. Again, put yourself in the position of a child experiencing these things and not looking back with your adult mindset.
These issues like:
- Emotional abuse or Psychological abuse from your family. This is deliberately trying to scare, humiliate, isolate or ignore a child. Emotional abuse is very difficult to spot and I will do a separate video on it.
- Other types of trauma could include
- No stability with your schooling – being made to leave abruptly or frequently so it’s difficult to make connections or friends etc.
- Witnessing your sibling being sick
- Being sick yourself
- Living with parents who abuse substances
- Living with parents who abuse each other
- Watching your parent(s) being hurt
- Being bullied either by your family or others
8 Reasons why trauma can be more difficult to cope with
It is also hard to pinpoint what a difficult childhood is as a number of factors could make the same situation easier or more difficult for the child to deal with but will still amount to a difficult childhood all the same.
I have put together eight situations that can make the impact of trauma more difficult for a child.
1. Parents need to be a safe haven
If a child can come home and it would be a safe place for them to be in, also a safe place to release any difficulties they might be experiencing in their own lives to a parent who helps them work through it effectively and to come to some sort of resolution. Is a lot different to a child experiencing the same thing and coming home to a family with their own turmoil. What happens to all those experiences?
2. Having no one to help you heal
This sort of leads on from No 1. Again, it is just having someone to work through your issues, as a child. The important thing about this is that having someone to walk you through that healing process, would stand you in good stead as an adult. To learn and to know what would work for you and what will make you feel better.
Knowing what to do then is a skill that you learn, and a lot of people don’t learn this as a child. This could be for a number of reasons. Maybe your parents didn’t understand what you were going through, how it affected you. To give you the support you needed at the time.
For example, if you were bullied frequently at school but you knew that if you told your parents, they would get angry at the teacher or the child concerned. You may have decided you didn’t want to cause trouble and blamed yourself. You could have decided that it would be best to deal with it yourself.
3. The frequency and intensity of
With this, it is hard to put a number on anything especially if the above factors are happening.
4. What if it wasn’t directed at you
You might be the hero as the favorite of the family but you could still witness a lot of issues without it directed at you. However, the fear of things happening or the fear of hurting people as you see others hurt can affect you as a child. That could have a detrimental impact on your ability to cope.
Thinking that you need to solve other people’s problems, that you need to protect other people. However, it is not within your capabilities as a child to try and do that.
5. How young you were when things started to happen
Not that it is any easier for the child but in someone way understanding what was happing and learning how to verbalise it to another safe person, would make the healing journey easier. The younger you are, the harder this would be.
6. The mental and emotional health of your parents
This feeds into some of the other previous issues again it is about understanding and not blaming which I will go into later. There are so many factors that could have made this difficult including if you as a child had to be the main Carer and look after the rest of the family if your parents couldn’t provide even some of your basic needs.
You could have missed out on a child or witnessed things happening to your parents no child should ever see. Or maybe your home life was unpredictable or predictably bad. Most of all here, no matter what difficulties you are going through as a family, it is only your parents that should be the anchor that keeps everything together.
7. No one knows how to deal with their emotions
This can show up when you find that only being happy all the time is an acceptable emotion, maybe you never saw any type of emotions from your parents either being happy or sad – just almost a robotic-like state. Or everyone just flies of the handle where being angry and dominating others is seen as normal.
The opposite of that is where you never see anyone angry in your family, showing anger is a definite no no.
The thing is that there is nothing wrong with any of these emotions and all of our emotions are what makes us human. It is just how we use them can affect us and others.
8. Trauma by omission
The final one here is about trauma from what you didn’t get as a child. Which again I will bring up when I do my podcast on Emotional abuse. Children need praise, safe touching i.e. affection, and quality attention, quality time is taken out to be spent with them.
I will link this to an article called the Three A’s. Anyone that has worked with me may have seen this. That’s Attention, Affection, and Affirmation. I will link to the article below, it is worth a read.
What it means we all need that we all need Affection, and we all need attention from our parents, and well need praise, we all need affirmation to know whether we are right or wrong.
Without these three things, we will spend the rest of our lives trying to find it in different ways, whether or not these ways are good for us or not. Whether it is trying to get attention from our spouse, trying to have praise from our employees, or seeking affection from our pets.
We would spend the rest of our life, unless we go through that healing journey, trying to get back what we missed.
Should I blame my parents?
I’m not here to blame your parents as the majority of parents don’t deliberately set out to harm their children. Most of us do the best we can with what we know to be right and true at the time.
The fact is that parents are also affected by their own childhoods and their experiences affect their ability to parent well. Do you blame your parents?
It is important here to differentiate between blame and responsibility. Your parents, due to their own childhood experiences and trauma wasn’t to blame as they didn’t know better, or they didn’t know how to do better but, and that’s a big but. This does not absolve them from responsibility.
It was your parents’ responsibility, no matter what they went through as a child themselves to take care of you. You needed someone as a child to take care of you. No matter how competent and responsible you felt you were, you were not responsible, they were.
That’s what I meant by it’s not about blame but understanding.
This process of looking at your childhood experiences is not for you blame your parents but for you to understand why you are you.
I understand this can be difficult, especially if you love and care for them now but seeing it this way will help you clear away any hurt and pain that could be lurking inside you about yourself or, and the hurt and pain could be about them as well.
What can you do if you think you experienced Childhood Trauma?
Try and understand that it wasn’t your fault. Has a child, you had no control over what was happening in your environment or the decisions and choices of people in your family.
It wasn’t your fault, and you weren’t to blame but you are responsible for any thing you do in you life that helps or hurts you. Even though you might not believe it or feel it, you can take steps to help yourself with support.
Even if you can’t have personal therapy, there is so much information available on the internet, there are free groups where you can get support or connect with other people who have experienced the same thing. There are also many books and audiobooks that will help you explore your experiences and provide some tools to improve things for you.
I have listed a number of books that are brilliant in helping you to heal from your past trauma. I have listed a few of them here>
What to do next
I went through what trauma is and I looked at how trauma can affect you. The fact that as a child, you can’t deal with many things that an adult can deal with as an adult. It is so important to look back to think and feel how your experiences would have affected you as a child, to understand the full extent of your trauma.
Also that, trauma is made difficult and harder to cope with by certain factors.
I also mentioned that this is not about blaming your parents, it’s for you to understand the things you have been through. Because that is the only way you could really change things, when you understand what is really happening to you.
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