Ways Childhood Trauma Can Impact Your Adult Life

Updated: May 25

A female child sits alone against a wall with her head down after experiencing childhood trauma

The impacts of childhood trauma are long-lasting, even in ways we may not be cognizant of. Here’s how to recognize the ways childhood trauma impacts your life in adulthood.

Key takeaways:

  • Many people believe that because children are young, trauma won’t impact them or they won’t remember it.

  • Children are resilient but can still be impacted by trauma.

  • Childhood trauma can have long-term impacts into adulthood.

  • Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can have lifelong consequences.

  • The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to develop chronic illnesses as an adult.

Many people mistakenly believe that when kids are young, traumatic impacts won’t impact them and they “won’t remember it.” While it is true that children are usually more resilient than adults, kids who experience events that evoke fear or are dangerous, violent, or life-threatening often experience the impacts of trauma later in life. These traumatic experiences are sometimes referred to as “adverse childhood experiences” or ACES.

What is childhood trauma?

Some common sources of childhood trauma can be physical or sexual abuse or even singular events like car accidents or the loss of a family member. Anything that causes chronic stress for a child, such as experiencing bullying or living in an unsafe situation, like one where there is domestic violence at home between their parents, can cause trauma.

Children do not have to directly experience the event to be impacted. This is called vicarious trauma. Witnessing an act of violence happen to a sibling or other family member, for example, can be vicariously traumatic.

The impact of childhood trauma

Experiencing childhood trauma can have multiple devastating effects on a young person. Here are some of them:

  • Impairment of physical development

  • Impaired development of the immune and central nervous systems

  • Affects brain development

  • Depression