Childhood Trauma written by Alexandra Madureira MBPsS, resident psychologist at the medical and psychological clinic, Cortijo Care, based in San Pedro with the assistance of Claire Puttock.
A trauma can happen to most people during their lives, dealing with the death of a loved one or coping with a serious illness in a family for example, and the aftermath can be extremely difficult to cope with. However childhood trauma can have an even more profound impact and can influence our character, behaviour and the way we perceive ourselves throughout our lives. It can cause us to be abusive to ourselves or to others. Dealing with the fallout can be difficult, but recovery is possible.
Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, addictions and other mental health conditions, such as eating or personality disorders, can be caused or exacerbated by what we experience in our childhood.
Take Michael for example; he bullies other children at his school, calling them names and physically hurting them; he is disruptive in class and disrespectful to his teachers. Or little Sarah who seems nervous, isolates herself and is often in tears at the most insignificant thing. Both Michael and Sarah may be reacting to trauma experienced at the hands of parents, relatives or other caregivers from birth and / or throughout their childhood years. Sometimes it’s much harder to spot.
This type of abuse could be physical, mental or the result of exposure to aggression or addiction at home. The way we are treated as children influences the way our brain develops and creates a long lasting ‘blueprint’ that can shape the way we live our lives. This can manifest itself by unconsciously repeating the patterns of childhood trauma in the form of abusing others or ourselves, forming unhealthy addictions, or living with unmanageable emotions.
Psychiatrists and psychologists often refer to the impact of childhood trauma as ‘dysregulation’. In short this means we can find it hard to regulate our thoughts, feelings and behaviour because of what happened to us as children. In our early years our brains are delicate so if a parent or caregiver abuses us and inflicts stress, our brains develop differently to those who grow up in more stable and loving environments.
Trauma in our early years will alert the brain to scan for threats and respond to them instinctively. Continuous activation of these responses can create a permanent susceptibility to perceive the world as a hostile place in which we have to protect ourselves. For some there may be a genetic vulnerability that is aggravated by trauma; for others this is not the case. Regardless of this we are born with an instinctive predisposition to form a strong bond with our mother. If she fails us in any way it can affect the health of our connection to her, or others as we grow.
The brain however, does have the ability to recover from childhood trauma and we can stop the cycle of abuse. A transformation can occur by which we make the transition from feeling neglected to feeling secure, from feeling unloved to feeling cherished. Psychotherapy is an effective way of helping people to make the changes in their lives that can restore their ability to stop destructive patterns and enhance a state of well-being.
Therapists will encourage clients, in a healthy and manageable way, to talk about themselves, their feelings, behaviours and life experiences. This helps the therapist to establish trust with the client. Through this the client can start to experience a more accurate sense of self-awareness and an understanding of how childhood traumas have impacted their lives within a safe environment. Through this process of realisation, the client can begin to understand why they may endure or inflict abusive behaviours on themselves, others, or indeed both. It then becomes possible, with the ongoing support of the therapist, to influence their brains to think and act in a more positive way, using coping strategies, better communication skills and thought processing.
Mental illnesses, addictions, eating and anxiety disorders are problems that are surmountable when we can get the right help from highly trained therapists and doctors. The impact of this treatment can be far reaching, improving our relationships with partners, children and loved ones and, most importantly, ourselves.
If your feelings and behaviour have become unmanageable and damaging, or if you know someone who in this position, help is at hand and recovery is possible. Moving from an emotionally dark place into one of light takes courage, effort and time, but the improvement in the quality of our lives and those of the people around us is more than worth the effort.
Cortijo Care specialises in Trauma Resolution Therapies including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming). Call us now for a confidential chat or to book an appointment on 952 780 181.