Developmental Trauma and it’s effects in Adulthood

Every supressed and unexpressed emotion (fear, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt) has an untold story. The untold story lies in the depths of psychological trauma. Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. We often can’t make sense of what’s happening to us sometimes. Those overwhelming feelings of anger, those bouts of depression, those extreme mood swings, sadness, loneliness, inability to feel motivated, etc. The roots of these emotions can sometimes be traced back to our early childhood experiences with our primary caregivers. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 78% of children reported more than one traumatic experience before the age of 5. Twenty percent of children up to the age of 6 were receiving treatment for traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and traumatic loss or bereavement.

Adults who suffered from developmental trauma may go on to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is characterized by difficulties in: emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, distorted perceptions of perpetrators of abuse, difficulties in relationships with other people, and negative effects on the meaningfulness of life. Statements like “I never really had a childhood” or “I can’t remember much from growing up.” or “I’ve always felt like something was missing, but I don’t know what it is” or “I’m the kind of person who always dates people who are bad for me.” or “I’m someone who is better off alone.” or “I’m not the kind of person who has strong feelings about things.” These are some examples of what I hear from many of my clients who have suffered from developmental trauma. Our identity tends to be shaped by our earlier traumatic experiences.

Understanding these basic themes, which are often a result of dissociative effects on the traumatized personality can help people recognize areas of difficulty so they can take steps toward doing the work of recovery, repair and personal growth. It is important to understand that while it can be disheartening to read about the effects of developmental trauma in adulthood, and almost daunting to contemplate doing the work of recovery and identify formation beyond that of the traumatized self, therapeutic efforts are effective. Working toward getting basic self-care in place is an important first step, as is working toward feeling comfortable seeking help when trust in caregivers has been broken. Developing compassion for and patience with oneself can be difficult, but useful.