How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Men?

A lonely man sitting near a wall.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Men?

Many men experience childhood trauma and learn to suppress these experiences. They are taught to be strong and resilient, not displaying “weak” emotions. However, this does more harm than good. This blog will discuss how childhood trauma impacts men, the stigma surrounding discussing trauma as a man, and how to find healing. 

Childhood Trauma: The Facts

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two-thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. These events can include:

  • Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Community or school violence
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
  • Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Neglect

More than 1,000 children a day are treated for physical assault-related injuries. One in five high school students has reported being bullied. An estimated
five to 15% of boys have experienced sexual abuse. This percentage may be even higher due to the challenge of collecting information on experienced sexual abuse from men. 

Unfortunately, childhood trauma and abuse are widespread and can have devastating effects on the child’s future.

Effects of Childhood Trauma

Traumatic experiences can have a massive influence on a child’s psyche. For example, childhood trauma has been linked to an increase in substance use disorder (SUD). In addition, SUDs are “highly comorbid with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mood-related psychopathology.” 

Childhood trauma also increases the risk of depression and anxiety. It’s worth noting that, though women globally have higher rates of depression and anxiety, men have higher rates of all kinds of SUD. Men are also more likely to end up in the emergency room for illicit drug use than women. 

The Situation for Men

It’s a fact that men are “less emotionally expressive…and engage in more emotion-suppression” than women. Studies have shown that this emotion suppression begins at a young age. Conversations about emotion are framed very differently with young boys than with young girls. Anger is emphasized more than any other emotion in boys, while it is rarely mentioned in girls. 

Girls also have a much broader emotional vocabulary than boys, which is reinforced by conversations with parents. Emotional expressions by boys are more likely to be interpreted as anger than any other emotion. All of this suggests that men aren’t taught emotional intelligence and regulation the same way as women are if they are taught at all. 

This lack of education has adverse effects on men without trauma, as the study “School-aged Children’s Psychobiological Divergence as a Prospective Predictor of Health Risk Behaviors in Adolescence” by the Journal of Child and Family Studies shows that “children who deny emotional vulnerability are also more likely to become adolescents who engage in health-risk behaviors, such as substance use.” But in men with trauma, the effects can be disastrous.

Men and Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma increases the risk of emotional deregulation and mental health difficulties. When combined with men’s narrower range of emotions taught in childhood, expressing these difficulties can be a real challenge. Even when men and boys express their thoughts and feelings, they’re often discounted or ridiculed. Men are underdiagnosed with depression and anxiety because of biases concerning men’s emotions. Because of these factors, men worldwide are less likely to seek help for their mental health. 

In addition, men, on average, have fewer close relationships than women. This leaves men without any support system in the face of trauma. Loneliness and hopelessness thrive in this kind of situation. Men are 1.8 times more likely than women to take their own lives. The lack of professional help and support systems often leads to men self-treating with drugs or alcohol, explaining the higher rates of SUD in men. 

To summarize, childhood trauma leads to higher rates of mental health disorders, making it more likely for someone to have a co-occurring SUD. Men already have higher rates of SUD than women. On top of that, they have less close social relationships and more emotional suppression. Add in the stigma attached to expressing feelings and seeking therapy, and men with childhood trauma are left on their own to cope.