In a previous post, “They’ll Be Fine: Addressing Childhood Trauma,” I discussed how trauma affects children and ways that it can be addressed when a child is still young.
Oftentimes though, childhood trauma is not addressed at the time. Whether a child does not disclose their experience(s) to an adult, caregivers are not open to or cannot afford to seek therapy for their child, or any number of other reasons, childhood trauma may not be acknowledged until adulthood.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start healing.
Working With Your Childhood Trauma As An Adult
Your childhood trauma may have happened long ago. But the body remembers how we have learned to process and perceive the world around us. Helping yourself process deep traumas in the present can seem like a daunting task. Here are some gentle tips on how you can help heal yourself in the now.
- Developing acceptance around your past and present can help to decrease the negative self-talk people often experience around the “shoulds” in life. When we tell ourselves what we “should” be feeling or how we “shouldn’t” be acting we create stress on ourselves.
- By increasing mindfulness, we can become more attuned with our body’s responses to triggers and trauma patterns. When we slow down and notice our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, we can create more space between a stimulus and our reaction to that stimulus.
- Self-care has become a buzz-word in today’s pop-culture. Marketing strategists promote self-care or self-compassion as including the purchase of face masks, for example. In the therapeutic context, self-compassion is about granting yourself grace and making room to experience life with less self-judgement and more self-kindness.
- Learning about typical responses to trauma can be validating, as it normalizes your emotional reactions. Learning about others’ experiences with trauma can make you feel isolated.
- The Viva Center’s free resource, Resilient Brain Project, has many links to helpful facts and supports in place to help people through different symptoms and/or life experiences.
Signs You Might Need Professional Help
- Feelings of loss of self / hopelessness
- Decreased self-esteem / self-worth
- Loss of interest in things once interesting to you
- Abnormal sleeping and/or appetite
- Relational stress
- Intrusive thoughts and images
- Changes to hyper/hypo arousal
- Unexplained aches, pains by medical reasoning
- Difficulty coping with stress
- Increase in out-of-control or racing thoughts
- Loss of focus/attention
- Abnormal sexual drive
- Avoidance of thoughts or feelings
- Abnormal thrill-seeking behavior
This list is not exhaustive of all trauma symptoms. Not all people experience the trauma symptoms listed.
Treatment for Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma
Survivors of childhood trauma often need a combination of top-down and bottom-up therapeutic processing to heal the wounds of complex developmental trauma. Top-down processing refers to talk-based therapies that utilize the rational brain to make connections for the “why’s” we may have in our thinking, feeling, and behaviors. Talk-based therapies can offer insight to help us reframe responses to experiences. They can also offer an affirming space for us to feel heard and seen. Bottom-up processing refers to brain- and body-based therapies that help to regulate the nervous system by helping the body understand it no longer needs to send signals to the brain that it is unsafe.
By working with both of these systems, we can help our minds and bodies communicate with each other in a more functional way. The following are examples of types of therapies effective with adult-survivors with childhood trauma:
- Somatic experiencing (SE), Sensorimotor, Trauma-informed Yoga, Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), & more
- Psychodynamic, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Gestalt, Internal Family Systems (IFS), Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) & more
- Art, music, dance, narrative, sandtray, poetry, rap, etc.
Finding the treatment that’s right for you may take time; and that’s okay. No matter how severe your trauma history, healing is possible.