Why Does Childhood Trauma Affect Me Now?

Little kid standing with toys.

Why Does Childhood Trauma Affect Me Now?

When you hear the words “childhood memories,” most people think of happy, carefree days spent laughing and playing. For too many people, however, those types of memories may have been limited or may not have existed at all. There are those warm, happy childhood memories, and then there are traumatic memories. The traumatic experiences from childhood also stay with you but affect you much differently. The effects of childhood trauma are more likely to impact you every day.

When Trauma Stays Well Beyond Childhood

Warm childhood memories bring up those same feelings when you recall them. These feelings may come flooding back when a sight, sound, or smell reminds you of those fond experiences. Similarly, traumatic memories can bring up the same feelings of panic, fear, or pain. Likewise, they can also be recalled by some kind of sensory experience.

The difference is that traumatic experiences often cause pain even when they are not in the conscious mind. This pain is lasting and can cause both emotional and physical damage. When it is not in the conscious mind, trauma can be an unwelcome and constant companion.

What Happens When Trauma Gets “Stuck”

Traumatic experiences often overwhelm the mind. Particularly in children, these experiences can bring up a tsunami of emotions that the child does not understand or know how to process. Because these emotions do not get processed, they often get “stuck” in the brain.

These unresolved emotions often become painful and, like a wound that does not heal, can fester, causing both emotional and physical symptoms. Even years after the original experience, you may be experiencing emotional pain that you may or may not be aware is related to your trauma. You may develop behaviors and reactions that seem inappropriate or unusual for the situation at hand. You may also develop chronic illnesses that are a result of your childhood trauma.

Childhood Trauma That Becomes PTSD

When childhood trauma is unresolved and untreated, it may become post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma often triggers the “fight or flight” response, which is meant to only be a temporary response to help you avoid danger. When trauma remains, and this response remains triggered long-term, the childhood trauma can become PTSD. This disorder can be seriously debilitating and requires treatment to heal.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Frequent fears
  • Bad dreams
  • Racing heart
  • Profuse sweating
  • Avoiding people, places, events, or objects related to the trauma
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to trauma
  • Feeling tense
  • Being on edge or easily startled
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Getting easily angered
  • Guilt or self-blame about the traumatic event
  • Struggling to remember key points about trauma
  • Negative self-image or worldview
  • Loss of interest in preferred activities

Why Trauma So Often Leads to Addiction

When trauma is unresolved or has become PTSD, your mind and body do not know how to deal with the pain. One of the most common ways people try to cope with the pain is through using substances.

Using drugs or alcohol to try to numb the pain only offers a limited reprieve, if any. As your body develops a tolerance for substances, you need more drugs or alcohol more frequently to create the same effect. This leads to addiction, a common result of childhood trauma and PTSD.

Can You Relieve the Pain From Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma or PTSD still affects you now because it has not been resolved. Those unprocessed emotions are still inside you and have likely only increased with time. When you have an addiction as well, you need additional treatment. The good news is that you can relieve all of that pain and heal from both trauma and addiction.

During addiction treatment, you will receive various forms of therapy. Certain types of talk therapy can be helpful in healing from childhood trauma. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a preferred treatment for trauma and particularly PTSD, as it is a fast, effective, and evidence-based method of healing even long-term trauma. The concept is to safely reprocess the memories surrounding the initial traumatic event to create a feeling of safety for you and end the cycle of pain and fear.

Childhood trauma can last for many years and affect your life in myriad negative ways, including possibly being the impetus for your addiction. You can treat both simultaneously, which helps to ensure both a lasting recovery and lasting healing from your trauma or PTSD. Just because something happened to you as a child and has caused you pain all of these years does not mean that you need to hang onto it. You can create new experiences that will bring back happy memories in the years to come.