4 Things You Need to Know About Childhood Trauma and Its Connection to PTSD

If you have experienced any kind of childhood trauma, you may have heard or said one or more of the following: “It could have been worse,” “At least I didn’t have it as bad as others did,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” “Why can’t I just get over it?” or “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.” 

It’s not uncommon to dismiss painful childhood experiences or minimize the impact they’ve had on you as an adult.

After all, those things happened long ago, right? You might not even associate the word “trauma” with what you went through. You know it wasn’t great. In fact, it was pretty awful. You admit it was really “messed up,” but trauma? Nah. And PTSD? What’s that? But you’re struggling. You just want to feel “normal.”

The truth is, the words “trauma” and “PTSD” are frequently misunderstood. Our qualified therapy for trauma Thousand Oaks providers are here to help. Here are 4 things you need to know about childhood trauma and its connection to PTSD.

First thing: Childhood trauma and PTSD connection→ Childhood trauma is widespread.

Most people would agree that childhood trauma includes things like physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and even emotional abuse. For the record, yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of those experiences qualify as trauma. If you are a survivor of abuse like this, perhaps you are used to the word “trauma” and understand it all too well.

But fewer adults recognize that other very common childhood experiences are also considered trauma.

Anything that causes significant pain, instability, fear, or a disruption in the overall well-being, safety, and security of that child constitutes a traumatic experience.

Things like divorce, having an addicted or mentally ill parent, the loss of a significant caregiver, car accidents, natural disasters, poverty, childhood bullying, chronic illness, racism, and being part of a marginalized community, for example, are all experiences that can disrupt the developmental process and have a lasting impact from childhood into adulthood.

Children thrive in safe, calm, nurturing environments where their physical, mental, and emotional needs are met. Events that threaten their sense of safety and security on an ongoing or prolonged basis, or during a critical developmental period fall under the umbrella of “childhood trauma.”

Second thing to keep in mind→ PTSD: It’s really complicated.

woman sitting against a wall with her head in her hands

PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health diagnosis that’s based on a very specific set of symptoms.

It originally came about in an effort to understand the experiences of adult soldiers coming home from war. Today, we understand that many other individuals experience PTSD. The diagnosis can be made based on “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.” Unfortunately, there are limits to the definition of what causes PTSD that are rooted in the diagnostic criteria itself, which does not account for the lasting impact of ongoing adverse events in childhood.

Instead, children who have prolonged exposure to unsafe situations, stressful situations that threaten their sense of security, and situations where their emotional well-being is threatened, are frequently diagnosed with something other than PTSD based on the symptoms they’re experiencing.

When we understand that the definition of trauma is more widespread than once believed and that children often respond differently than adults, an adult who was given a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, or disruptive mood dysregulation as a child may be better understood through the lens of PTSD.

In other words, traumatic experiences as a child trigger behaviors in that child that are understandable responses. But rather than address the traumatic circumstances, the behaviors are treated as a separate mental health issue. Our therapists near Thousand Oaks, Ca at Simi Psychological Group understand this.

Third thing to keep in mind about Childhood trauma and its connection to PTSD→ We are hard-wired to survive: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.

Way, way, way back when your ancestors were facing wooly mammoths and saber tooth tigers, in fact even before then, the human brain developed in such a way that increased our odds of survival. Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for our flight, fight, freeze, and fawn responses. These are the things that are hard-wired and outside our conscious control.

When our life is in danger or there is a perceived threat, our heart rate increases and our bodies release hormones like adrenaline to give us the strength and energy to either fight our attacker or run away from the threat.

When we instinctively understand we can’t fight our way out or run away, our bodies respond to the threat through the freeze or fawn response. We have unconsciously decided the best way to survive the threat is to stay still or comply.

Childhood trauma very often consists of prolonged, ongoing exposure to threatening circumstances which triggers the stress response. Whether it’s actual childhood abuse or the myriad of other experiences which constitute trauma, the impact of those experiences is significant. The ongoing exposure to the stress response itself can wreak havoc on the body and the mind. Children who cannot escape their circumstances adopt a set of behaviors that allows them to “survive.” It’s these behaviors that are diagnosed as anxiety, depression, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or disruptive mood dysregulation, for example, when in reality they are the result of trauma. And as a child who experienced trauma, you grow into an adult who carries the burden of that trauma.

Therefore, PTSD is common in those with a history of childhood trauma. But the symptoms of PTSD may show up differently. Our trauma therapists in Simi Valley are here to support you

Fourth thing! Very important! You’re not crazy and healing is possible.

woman sitting on a couch smiling and facing a woman sitting in a chair

While you may or may not have understood your struggle to be related to childhood trauma, and you may or may not identify as having a PTSD diagnosis, the fact of the matter is, as human beings we make sense.

The things you’re struggling with as an adult, your desire to run away from your pain, the trauma triggers that seem to come out of nowhere, the hopelessness you feel at times, and the sense of feeling stuck and unable to move forward, are all connected to your earlier experiences.

When you’ve experienced childhood trauma, it can feel like no one understands. You may have gotten in the habit of minimizing your own experience, you may be frustrated that you can’t seem to “get past it”, or you may feel like you simply can’t find the words to express the pain you’re in. But you are not alone.

Our Trauma therapists Thousand Oaks are trauma-informed professionals and truly care about your healing journey.

Through a combination of interpersonal process therapy, family systems, and cognitive-behavioral techniques, you and your therapist will work together to ensure your needs are met.

Help is available and healing is possible at Simi Psychological Group.  Reach out today to start your healing journey. Contact us at (805) 842-1994 to inquire about therapy for trauma in Simi Valley, Ca Thousand Oaks and neighboring communities. We also provide anxiety therapy, depression therapy, teen therapy and more in Simi Valley, Ca and online therapy in CA.