Counselling for Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma can have a huge impact on how your life unfolds, effecting both your mental health and body. If you have been traumatised through childhood abuse, you might feel that you can’t trust anyone, that you’re damaged and unlovable, and that nothing can ever change. It can lead to anxiety, social anxiety, depression, codependency and problems with self-esteem.
The ramifications of childhood trauma, emotional abuse and emotional neglect often persist into adult lives, making it difficult to form healthy relationships. As an adult survivor, you might find them overwhelming or frightening, and keep your distance to avoid being hurt or rejected again. Or you might be drawn to relationships which involve domestic abuse, emotional abuse to economic abuse.
You might have tried coping mechanisms such as drinking or drugs, or maybe find yourself ‘dissociating’, where you become mentally disconnected from what’s going on.
As a psychotherapist in Central London, I see the effects of childhood trauma everyday – it’s a very common problem. Childhood trauma and abuse can take time to heal, and starts with developing a trusting relationship with your therapist. Therapy for childhood trauma is well researched, and many clients find that they’re able to release themselves from the bonds of the past, and live happy and fulfilling lives.
What is childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma occurs when a child grows up in an unstable and unpredictable environment. The parents are often emotionally immature, and can be neglectful of the child’s needs. The abuse from parents with their own mental health problems can cause trauma to the child’s mental state and nervous system.
If you’ve suffered form childhood trauma or childhood sexual abuse, you might find yourself trapped in the past, as certain triggers can instantly take you back to old memories and feelings. These states are so strong that they can’t be reasoned with, or overcome through mental effort. They’re often accompanied by physical sensations, causing you to become highly anxious, or shut down, and unable to speak or think clearly.
Childhood trauma can cause flashbacks and nightmares, or invasive memories which won’t go away. But you may only have vague memories of the childhood abuse, which can cause self doubt and confusion about how you feel. You might feel strong emotions or physical sensations with certain family members or around particular situations without knowing why they are there.
It can be difficult for anyone who has been abused as a child, whether it’s mental abuse, physical abuse, or a combination of the two. This is where the relationship with your therapist is important. A good therapist will accept you as you are, and help you to transform the way you see yourself. You’ll gradually learn to trust people, and recognise that the negative feelings that disrupt you life are merely remnants from the past.
Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is one of the most difficult forms of child abuse, often leaving an extreme and lasting impact on the victim. It takes place behind closed doors, masked by trust or authority, making it challenging for the child to comprehend what’s happening to them, let alone report it to someone.
This form of sexual violence involves coercing or forcing a minor into sexual acts without their consent or understanding. The traumas of a child who has experienced sexual abuse range from emotional distress at the time, to serious mental health conditions surfacing later on in life.
The memories and feelings associated with such sexual assault as a child can be overwhelming, making it essential for victims to seek professional guidance. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, therapy is recommended for empathic support and learning to process the trauma. You can also access support at the Survivors Trust and Rape Crisis England.
How is childhood trauma treated?
Childhood trauma treatment starts with providing a safe environment, where you can build a trusting relationship with your therapist. You’ll be offered emotional support as you gently unpack the past, process trauma, and come to terms with what has happened.
The technical term for childhood trauma and abuse is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or C-PTSD for short. CPTSD is similar to PTSD, and is caused by many sustained traumas over a period of time, which affect your mind, body and nervous system. Understanding more about CPTSD will help you to understand some of the symptoms that you’re experiencing.
Childhood trauma, depression and despair
The effect of accumulating so many traumas at a time when you were young and vulnerable can leave you as an adult with no sense of hope about the future. You might ‘know’ that there is nothing you can do to change your situation. This mindset is from having repeatedly experienced abuse as a child, and having no way to escape or remove yourself from the situation. It results in a shutting down, a form of depression often accompanied by despair.
You might have a sense of low self-esteem, or just not see yourself as being as confident as the people around you. If you have been abused, you might suffer from chronic shame, believing that you are worthless, or destined to become a failure. These feelings are incredibly powerful, and it can be difficult to see through them, into a more balanced and realistic picture of who you are, and what you’re capable of.
Re-experiencing childhood trauma
If you were abused as a child you might experience flashbacks, or intrusive memories of past traumas. These memories can also occur as nightmares, or disturbing mental states that are confusing and unexplained. There are also physical symptoms, such as uncomfortable feelings in the body, freezing, fainting, or adrenaline fuelled anxiety.
These are all feelings and sensations that are from the past, but cloud the way that you’re seeing the present. You may be in the safest of places, with people you trust, but one particular trigger – a stern face, or critical remark can instigate a flood of emotions. Many people with a difficult childhood are constantly on the look out for danger, living in a state of hyper-vigilance.
Avoiding people or situations
There are certain situations, places or people that trigger painful emotions, memories or mental states. Do you avoid certain activities as a way of avoiding these triggers? It’s not uncommon for adult survivors of childhood abuse to restructure their lives to protect themselves from painful encounters. You might have stopped socialising to avoid social anxiety, or disturbing emotions or physical sensations.
“Someday we will regard our children not as creatures to manipulate or to change but rather as messengers from a world we once deeply knew, but which we have long since forgotten”
Out of control emotions
Do you find your emotions to be unpredictable? Childhood trauma can lead to unstable emotions in adults, helplessly swinging from one mood to another for no apparent reason. If you haven’t had the opportunity to find a ‘secure base’ within within yourself, the feelings of rejection, abandonment or insecurity can easily be triggered.
There can be angry outbursts where you lash out at others, or an underlying sense of irritability. You might have feelings that are so overwhelming that the only way you can contain them is through various forms of self harming. Many people who are victims of childhood abuse also have suicidal thoughts, and can suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
Disconnecting from reality
Disconnecting, or ‘dissociation’ is a classic symptom of people who have been through mental or physical childhood abuse or sexual abuse. It first happens when the child’s experience is so traumatic that the body and mind automatically switches into a dissociative state. It’s a survival mechanism, which blocks out the horror of the present moment because it’s too much to process.
Dissociating goes on to become a habitual response, which defends against the possibility of unbearable emotions, even when there’s no real threat. It can even in result in psychosomatic symptoms such as dissociative seizures.
Dissociative symptoms can range from moments of ‘zoning out’ to longer term memory loss, and/or creating alternative fantasy realities or background stories. Some people who have experienced childhood trauma, are in a constant state of disconnection from their feelings, which makes it difficult to maintian close relationships.
How childhood trauma affects adult relationships
Childhood is an important time for learning how to relate to others. Your first relationships were with your parents, and if you had difficulties in establishing a secure connection, it’s likely that you’ll have the same challenges when it comes to personal relationships in your adult life.
If you grew up with a fear of being abandoned, you might have low self-esteem, and regard others as being more worthy than you. Your attachment style will lead you into relationships where you’re the more needy one, looking to your partner for the security and attention that you didn’t receive in childhood.
Or you may have learned to become emotionally independent from an early age, due to neglect and a lack of care from your parents. As an adult you’ll feel like you don’t need others, and will tend to avoid intimate relationships or situations where you need something from someone else. This emotional independence is often really an emotional numbing, and suppression of your true feelings.
Childhood trauma therapy in London
Childhood trauma can influence can influence every area of your life. The emotional scars, disruptive memories, or distorted perception of your self-worth can make it difficult to form meaningful relationships.
Counselling for childhood abuse aims to help you learn to trust again, create healthier relationships, and establish emotional stability. During child abuse counselling, you’ll be offered emotional and practical support as you’re guided through the healing process. Recovering from childhood trauma is certainly possible, and starts with reaching out to a therapist who you feel you could trust.