What is Childhood Trauma?

What is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma occurs when a child experiences something too emotionally painful or distressing to process. Ages 0-18 are considered the developmental years in which a child’s brain is still developing. When a trauma occurs during these years, it isn’t something a person can grow out of or just forget, because it not only lives in the memory network and is attached to the five senses, but it is also stored in the nervous system and body.  Childhood trauma can have lasting negative effects on mental health, physical health, relationships, and emotional well-being, and these can last a lifetime if untreated.  Examples of childhood trauma may include:

  1. Physical abuse: Hitting, beating, or inflicting bodily harm.
  2. Emotional abuse: Verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, or constant criticism.
  3. Emotional neglect: Failing to provide proper attunement, emotional mirroring, validation, or attention to emotional needs consistently
  4. Sexual abuse: Any form of sexual contact or behavior with a child.
  5. Neglect: Failing to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs.
  6. Witnessing domestic violence: Seeing or hearing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in the home.
  7. Substance abuse: Living with family members who have substance use disorders.
  8. Mental illness: Having a caregiver with untreated mental health issues.
  9. Natural disasters: Experiencing events like earthquakes, floods, or fires.
  10. Community violence: Exposure to violence in the community, such as shootings or gang activity.
  11. Accidents and medical trauma: Serious injuries or illnesses, or undergoing painful medical procedures.

The effects of childhood trauma can last well into adulthood and often include difficulties with emotional regulation, inability to trust, relationship issues, fear of vulnerability, lack of closeness with others, low self-esteem and feeling not good enough, anxiety, OCD, perfectionism, depression, emotional loneliness, and other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. When the trauma is ongoing, it causes complex developmental trauma or CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).


Early intervention and supportive, therapeutic environments can help reduce the effects and support healing and resilience. Individual and group therapy can provide healing. EMDR Therapy can help reprocess what is stuck and currently causing disturbance and clear the trauma from the nervous system and body.

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