It is easy to underestimate the power of our childhood experiences. We may also undervalue the influence early experiences have on us as adults, whether positive or negative. And unfortunately, this means that traumatic experiences are not outside the realm of possibilities. We may need to figure out how to heal from childhood trauma more than we realize.
Childhood trauma happens more often than we think. According to the CDC, about 60% of American adults have experienced trauma [*]. Given this statistic, it is necessary that we open the conversation on healing from childhood trauma.
In this article, we’ll talk about some details of childhood trauma and 9 ways you can heal from it.
What is Childhood Trauma?
So what is childhood trauma, exactly? This type of trauma is a result of adverse childhood experiences that may have occurred during an individual’s early years. Such negative and potentially trauma-inducing events may include experiencing neglect or abuse, witnessing violence at home or in the community, or conflict in the home.
It is important to note that traumatic experiences are not the same as all other negative experiences. For something to cause trauma in a child that persists throughout their lifetime, the event must be distressing or life-threatening. These events may happen to the child themselves or someone they are close to. Such experiences can happen to anyone at any time; however, not all events will have a traumatic effect.
What Does Unhealed Childhood Trauma Look Like?
Unhealed childhood trauma often manifests as different behaviors and thinking patterns in adulthood. There are various signs of childhood trauma in adults, such as hypervigilance, difficulty in relationships, and mood issues like depression and anxiety.
Childhood trauma that has not been healed can also be repressed. Some signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults may include trust issues, difficulty regulating emotions, and inability to cope with change.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many other ways that unhealed childhood trauma can appear. The ones listed above are some of the most commonly observed signs that surface in individuals with childhood trauma.
Can Childhood Trauma Ever Be Healed?
It is a difficult process that can take many years and, for some, even a lifetime of healing. But yes, overcoming childhood trauma is still possible.
To heal from childhood trauma, it is essential to address and complete the recovery process that should have taken place years ago when the traumatic incident happened. When using these tips and exercises, try starting with a small traumatic experience first before taking steps towards bigger traumas. This is so that you can master the technique and apply it to more challenging traumas to heal.
How to Heal from Childhood Trauma
There are many ways to heal from childhood trauma. Some can be done on your own, while others may require help from a trusted individual or even a professional. Here are some ways that you can take charge of your healing:
1. Ground yourself
Dealing with childhood trauma is often traumatic in itself because it may sometimes lead to reliving the past. Instead, try bringing yourself back to the present. Find a quiet space without disturbances and sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Take several deep breaths to ground yourself in the present moment. Allow yourself to develop an awareness of your surroundings; pay attention to how your body feels from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Let yourself feel connected to your environment. This exercise will ground you, making it possible to stay focused on the present rather than rehashing past events.
2. Recognize the trauma
Even as you focus on living in the present, it’s still important to recognize that, as a child, you went through a traumatic experience. Doing this is the first step to accepting that the trauma has happened to you, which is necessary for healing.
Children often don’t understand why adults act toward them in uncaring or traumatizing ways. As a result, many people with childhood trauma place the blame on themselves rather than on those who caused the trauma. Remember: it is not your fault. With the help of a professional, you can work on accepting this. Talking about generational trauma might help you understand your family’s story too. It does not mean you have to forgive them if you choose not to. But it helps put context into your story as well, and this is a powerful tool for your recovery.
3. Reclaim control
Trauma can cause feelings of helplessness that carry over into adulthood, making you feel like a constant victim of circumstance. These feelings may lead to making decisions based on your past pain. When you feel like a victim, it’s possible to feel as though the past controls your present. But once you reclaim control of your past and conquer even part of your pain, you will start to feel more control over your present and future.
4. Take good care of yourself
Taking good care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally will allow you to cope with the stressors that often accompany childhood trauma. Eat healthy and balanced meals, get at least eight hours of sleep, and exercise regularly. Avoiding alcohol and drugs is also helpful.
5. Be patient with yourself
The process of recovering from childhood trauma is often filled with self-criticism and guilt. To start being patient with yourself, keep in mind one simple thought: you were not responsible for the trauma you experienced. Trauma, like any wound, will take time and the right kind of treatment to heal successfully. Be patient with yourself, and treat yourself like you would a friend.
6. Reparent your inner child
Reparenting your inner child can help provide the safety and security you might not have had in the face of a traumatic event. Visualize going back in time and meeting your younger self during a time when you felt unsafe or afraid. Talk to your inner child the way you wish your parents or guardians would have talked to you — this can be reassurance, validation, or love. Most of all, make your younger self feel safe. This can calm down your nervous system and help heal past wounds. You can use trauma worksheets to help guide these conversations.
7. Focus on behavior change
Getting over childhood trauma is not just about changing one’s mindset; it is also about behavior change. First, it’s important to identify which behaviors are no longer serving you in your healing journey. For some, that may be drinking alcohol or recreational drugs. Others might notice it in their people-pleasing tendencies. Take small steps to change these behaviors until you form new, more helpful habits.
8. Accept and let go
Accepting and letting go of your trauma does not necessarily mean that you are agreeing with or embracing it. Acceptance means that you’ve recognized its presence in your life and the steps you’re going to take moving forward. Letting go means that you are no longer allowing the memories from the trauma to prevent you from living a good life now.
9. Get support
A natural reaction that many trauma survivors have is to withdraw from others and isolate themselves. As tempting as that might seem, try to resist the urge to push people away. What will make your healing process much easier is if you maintain your relationships and continuously seek support. This can be from friends, family, romantic partners, and even support groups and mental health professionals.
How Long Does It Take to Heal from Childhood Trauma?
Healing from childhood trauma is not a one-size-fits-all process. It is highly dependent on the individual and what their experience was like with childhood trauma. For more severe cases, healing may take a longer time. Other types of childhood trauma may heal in as short as six months to a year.
This will also depend on the type of treatment that an individual chooses. It may take time to find the right therapy technique or combination of treatments (e.g., medication and therapy) to help the healing process.
The Bottom Line
Healing childhood trauma is always going to be difficult, but it can be made easier with the help of others. By getting the right kind of treatment, you can transform your life after years of trauma. Working with a mental health professional and your support systems can help you get on the right path to healing. And with time, patience, and constant effort, you can work through the trauma to be the best version of yourself.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Childhood Trauma. 11 July 2019.