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Ways Childhood Trauma Can Impact Your Adult Life

Updated: May 25, 2022

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

  • Emotional distress

  • High stress levels

  • Issues controlling anger

  • Psychotic disorders

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

These are just a few of the many mental and physical effects childhood trauma can have on children while they’re still developing. Naturally, the development of these issues can have carryover consequences into adulthood.

PTSD in children

Some children develop PTSD after a traumatic event. This is more common with girls (15%) versus boys (6%). Kids with PTSD can re-experience the trauma repeatedly and may avoid anything that reminds them of it.

They might also act out the trauma while playing. Other children become hypervigilant, always on the alert for danger, believing that they can prevent something bad from happening to them again in the future if they are alert enough.

Other signs of PTSD in children are:

  • Trouble focusing

  • Regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking

  • Difficulty displaying affection

  • Increase in aggression/anger

  • Behavioral issues at school

  • Worry about dying young or preoccupation with death

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed

Children who don’t develop PTSD may still develop a trauma response after experiencing a traumatic event. It’s important that children who experience trauma receive professional help afterward to prevent detrimental effects that can last into adulthood.

The ACE study

The ACE study is a famous study carried out between 1995 to 1997. Kaiser Permanente gave over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members confidential surveys. The members underwent physical exams and then answered questions on the surveys about both their experiences as children and their current health status and behaviors.

The ACE survey included questions about the following, in addition to questions about physical and sexual abuse:

  • Did a parent or older adult in the household often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?

  • Did you often feel that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

  • Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?

The ACE study showed the prevalence of childhood trauma. Over half – 64% – answered yes to at least one item of the ten about physical or sexual abuse. More than 10% of people – 12.5% – of people had an ACE score of four or higher. Having an ACE score of four or higher would indicate a high level of neglect, abuse, and victimization for a child, occurring at the hands of caregivers who are supposed to care for and love them. This can understandably impact the way a child would interact with and engage with the world in the future.

The link between ACEs and health

Studies have shown that the more trauma a child has endured, the higher their risk for developing chronic illness in adulthood. Repeated exposure to trauma increased the risk of developing:

  • Asthma

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke

  • Coronary heart disease

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Pulmonary diseases

  • Cardiovascular diseases

  • Cancer

  • Chronic pain

  • Higher risk of alcohol and tobacco use

  • Higher risk of STDS

There are many potential impacts of childhood trauma on your health as an adult – so if you are aware of childhood trauma that hasn’t been treated, it’s best to seek treatment…even if you feel like the event was a long time ago. It’s never too late to heal.

Get support from a qualified, caring therapist in the South Florida area

The pathways to healing from trauma can be very detailed and involved and are also non-linear. Having support from the right professionals can create a huge shift. Although processing trauma will never be an easy or pleasant process, therapy can help make it a less traumatic one. Individual therapy for trauma can be tremendously beneficial when you decide to start healing yourself.

The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help you process trauma, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 786.571.4636 for a free 20-minute consultation.

We are here to help you improve your mental health and support you on your journey to healing.


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