Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults
Knowing When to Seek Help for Unresolved Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma is a complex and sensitive issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked or ignored, which can exacerbate its damaging consequences. Studies show that the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults are quite prevalent: “With more than two-thirds of children reporting at least 1 traumatic event by age 16,” according to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Trauma can have a lasting and widespread impact, affecting every aspect of a person’s life. To cope with these experiences, some individuals may consciously or unconsciously repress or forget them, but this could cause symptoms and behaviors to surface later on in life.
To gain insight into the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults and to understand the significance of seeking assistance from a mental health professional to promote the healing process, continue reading. Icarus Behavioral Health is here for you.
What is Repressed Trauma?
Repressed childhood trauma refers to any experience or situation that a child perceives as dangerous or harmful, but is unable to cope with or process at the time due to developmental limitations. This could be anything from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to neglect, abandonment, or witnessing violence.
When we struggle to deal with these experiences, they become unconscious and are pushed to the depths of our memory. However, they don’t just disappear; they continue to affect us in subtle yet profound ways as we grow up and become adults.
Repressed childhood trauma often affects our sense of self and our beliefs about the world. When we experience traumatic events as children, we may internalize negative messages about ourselves, such as “I’m not worthy of love” or “I’m powerless.” These beliefs can continue to shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as adults, leading to low self-esteem, shame, or a sense of helplessness.
We may also develop negative beliefs about the world, such as “people are not to be trusted” or “violence is inevitable.” This can lead to a pessimistic and fearful outlook, making it harder to cope with stress or challenges.
What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES?
Adverse Childhood Experiences are stressful or traumatic events that occur during a child’s development, typically before the age of 18. These experiences can be categorized into three primary types:
Abuse: This includes physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment of a child by an adult or older adolescent.
Neglect: This refers to the failure of a caregiver to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, educational, or medical needs.
Household Dysfunction: This encompasses a range of family-related issues, such as parental substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, parental separation or divorce, or having an incarcerated family member.
What are the Effects of ACEs on Lifelong Health and Well-being?
Research has consistently demonstrated that exposure to ACEs can have wide-ranging and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Some of the potential consequences of ACEs include:
- Increased risk of mental health issues: Children exposed to ACEs are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders throughout their lives.
- Higher risk of chronic diseases: Unresolved childhood trauma increases the risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
- Impaired cognitive development: Exposure to ACEs can negatively impact a child’s cognitive development, leading to learning difficulties, lower academic achievement, and reduced earning potential in adulthood.
- Behavioral problems: Children who experience ACEs are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, smoking, and early sexual activity, which can further contribute to poor health outcomes.
- Interpersonal difficulties: The impact of ACEs can extend to an individual’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, leading to increased vulnerability to intimate partner violence, difficulty with parenting, and social isolation.
Addressing and Mitigating the Consequences of ACEs
Given the profound and lasting impact of ACEs, it is crucial to address and mitigate their effects to promote resilience and well-being. Some strategies to achieve this include:
- Early intervention: Providing support and resources to families at risk of experiencing ACEs can help prevent or mitigate the effects of these stressors on children.
- Trauma-informed care: Healthcare, educational, and social service professionals should be trained in trauma-informed care to recognize and address the needs of individuals who have experienced ACEs.
- Mental health support: Access to mental health services, including counseling and therapy, is essential for helping children and adults process and heal from the effects of ACEs.
- Community and social support: Building strong social networks and fostering community engagement can help provide individuals with the resources and support necessary to navigate and overcome the challenges associated with ACEs.
How Does Childhood Trauma Get Repressed?
Repression is a psychological defense mechanism that allows the mind to protect itself from overwhelming or distressing experiences by pushing it out of conscious awareness. This process is thought to be an automatic response to trauma, helping individuals cope with the immediate aftermath of an adverse event. The following factors may contribute to the repression of childhood trauma:
The Developing Brain
The brain continues to develop throughout childhood, with some regions and functions maturing later than others. As a result, children may not have the cognitive capacity to fully process traumatic experiences, leading to the repression of these memories.
Dissociation is a psychological process that allows individuals to separate themselves from their thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations during or immediately following a traumatic event. This detachment can help them cope with the overwhelming emotions associated with the trauma, but may also contribute to the repression of the memories associated with it.
Traumatic events can be encoded in the brain as fragmented, disjointed memories, rather than a coherent narrative. This fragmentation can make it difficult for individuals to access and recall the traumatic memories, contributing to their repression.
Children who have experienced trauma may engage in emotional avoidance as a coping mechanism, intentionally or unintentionally suppressing thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event. Over time, this avoidance can lead to the repression of the associated memories.
Social and Cultural Influences
The environment in which a child is raised, along with cultural norms and expectations, can also play a role in the repressed memories. In some cases, children may be discouraged from discussing or acknowledging their traumatic experiences, either by their family or society as a whole, leading to the repression of these memories.
Why Does Repression Occur?
Repression is believed to serve a protective function, shielding the individual from the emotional pain and distress associated with the traumatic event. By pushing these memories out of conscious awareness, the mind can maintain a sense of stability and safety, allowing the individual to continue functioning in their daily life.
However, this coping mechanism can have long-term consequences, as unresolved trauma can manifest in various physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms later in life.
Why Do Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma Manifest in Adults?
Early childhood experiences affect one’s mental and physical health, and it’s crucial to understand how childhood trauma impacts one’s well-being.
Physical Health Problems
Research has linked childhood trauma to physical health problems. Children who experience adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at higher risk of developing chronic pain, chronic diseases, and other physical health issues. These health issues can persist throughout their lives and lead to premature death.
Mental Health Issues and Emotional Problems
Early childhood trauma can also lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a severe mental health condition that develops after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event.
It can cause trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. People who experience childhood trauma are at higher risk of developing PTSD and other mental health conditions throughout their lives.
Children who experience trauma are at higher risk of developing chronic stress. Chronic stress is a prolonged stress response that can occur when a person experiences prolonged stress.
Childhood trauma can lead to both biological and psychological changes in how the body responds to stress. The stress response system can become dysregulated, leading to chronic stress, which can increase the risk of developing physical and mental health problems.
Trauma is a significant risk factor for substance abuse. People who experience childhood trauma may use substances as a coping mechanism to deal with the emotional pain and distress caused by trauma.
Substance abuse can lead to addiction, a severe mental health disorder that can significantly impact one’s life. People who experience childhood trauma and develop an addiction may struggle with addiction throughout their lives.
Low Self Esteem
Those who have faced early childhood trauma may have lower self-esteem than those who haven’t. They may feel less worthy than others or feel that they don’t deserve good things in life. This can lead to a lack of self-confidence and difficulty in forming healthy relationships with others.
Trauma can cause individuals to experience intense fear or anxiety, leading to panic attacks or other forms of anxiety disorders. These fears may stem from the traumatic events they experienced during childhood, and they may feel triggered when faced with certain situations.
Those with childhood trauma may also experience reactions that are more similar to a child’s than an adult’s. They may struggle with regulating their emotions, leading to outbursts or tantrums. These reactions can be triggered by situations that remind them of their traumatic experiences.
Adults who experienced childhood trauma may struggle to form healthy, trusting relationships, often as a result of attachment issues or fear of vulnerability and abandonment issues.
7 Effective Ways to Heal From Repressed Childhood Trauma
1) Acknowledge The Trauma
The first step to healing from repressed childhood trauma is to acknowledge that it happened. It is essential to identify the triggers that have been causing pain and distress so that you can start working on them.
Acceptance is the first step toward healing. When you acknowledge your trauma, you take the power away from the memory and give it back to yourself.
2) Seek Professional Help
It is crucial to work with a professional who is well-versed in trauma treatment. A therapist or treatment center such as Icarus can help identify the root cause of the trauma and develop a plan to heal from it. They can work on ways to manage the symptoms that come with trauma, such as anxiety and depression. A professional can be a great sounding board and a support system when things get overwhelming.
3) Practice Self-Care
Self-care is vital when it comes to healing from childhood trauma. Self-care activities such as yoga, meditation, or exercise have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Practicing self-compassion and forgiveness can also go a long way in helping you heal from trauma. Take time out for yourself and focus on doing activities that make you happy.
4) Connect With Others
One of the most important aspects of healing from repressed childhood trauma is building a strong support system. Connect with friends, family, or a support group, who can provide comfort and understanding. Surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you on your journey to healing.
5) Be Patient
Healing from repressed childhood trauma is a process that requires patience and dedication. It is important to remember that healing is not a quick fix, and it will take time. There will be good days and bad days, but with consistent effort, you can overcome the trauma and live a fulfilling life.
6) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: EMDR Therapy
Trauma-informed treatment can help those struggling with the effects of childhood trauma. In recent times, treatment with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has become a popular therapy approach.
The EMDR therapy process involves working through difficult memories, beliefs, and emotions that have been stuck within the survivor’s body and mind. This therapy uses bilateral stimulation, which helps trauma survivors to connect both sides of their brains, making it easier for them to manage and process emotions.
If you’re a survivor of childhood trauma, you might have noticed that certain sounds, smells, or visuals trigger memories and intense emotional reactions. For example, if you experienced physical abuse as a child, the sight of a particular color or a smell might bring back memories of that experience.
EMDR helps to reduce the intensity of these triggers, by alternating eye movements or different kinds of bilateral stimulation or eye movements, which allow the survivor to process the experience, and reduce their intensity gradually.
7) Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive Processing Therapy involves identifying and challenging the negative thoughts and beliefs you have about yourself, others, and the world around you. These thoughts and beliefs can be a result of the trauma you experienced and can lead to feelings of anxiety, sadness, and anger.
In CPT, you will work with your therapist to identify these thoughts and begin to challenge them by looking for evidence or alternative explanations. By changing your negative thoughts, you can change how you feel and behave.
The therapy typically involves twelve weekly sessions lasting 50-60 minutes each. During these sessions, you will learn how to identify and challenge your negative thoughts, track your progress, and develop effective coping strategies. Your therapist will provide you with homework assignments, such as keeping thought records or engaging in behavioral experiments, to help you practice and reinforce the new skills you are learning.
Cognitive Processing Therapy has been shown to be highly effective in treating PTSD. Many studies have shown that it can significantly reduce symptoms of PTSD and improve overall functioning.
Get Help with Childhood Trauma and Find Healing as an Adult
The road to recovery from childhood trauma is a demanding and tough one, but it is also one of the most satisfying and gratifying things a person can do for themselves. At Icarus Behavioral Health, we are here to walk with you every step of the way, providing compassionate, evidence-based residential trauma treatment programs that empower you to overcome your trauma and build the life you deserve.
If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma, addiction, or any other mental health issue, don’t hesitate to contact us today. We are here to help.
All calls to our facility are confidential, so please reach out in confidence today and get options for healing trauma and experiencing the joy of life!