How Long Will I Be in Therapy for Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being. The experiences we go through during our early years shape our development and can influence our emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. In fact, childhood trauma can have an impact on our mental health long term and make us more likely to experience certain mental conditions such as:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): this includes having nightmares, feeling jumpy or on edge, and having memories that keep coming back.
- Depression: We might lose interest in things we used to enjoy and feel like life is hard and not worth living. It can be really tough to feel happy when we've been through tough experiences.
- Anxiety Disorders: Trauma can make us feel really worried and scared when we might otherwise not have such an intense reaction to daily life.. We might have a hard time being around other people, or we might feel really anxious in certain situations. Our minds are always on alert, looking for danger.
But what if I can’t pinpoint if I went through this? How would I know if my behavior as a child was normal?
Recognizing and understanding childhood trauma can be complex, especially if we are unsure of our own experiences or struggle to remember them clearly. It is not uncommon for individuals who have experienced trauma to have fragmented or limited recollections of their past. Additionally, the effects of trauma can manifest in various ways, making it difficult to discern whether our behavior as a child was typical or influenced by traumatic experiences.
As a traumatized child, you may have experienced:
- Easily falling out of the window of tolerance: you frequently felt on edge, easily startled, and found it hard to relax. You might have struggled with sleeping, felt irritable, or had trouble focusing.
- Avoidance: You may have tried to stay away from people, places, or things that reminded you of the traumatic event or challenged authority such as teachers all together.
By engaging in trauma therapy, you open yourself up to the possibility of reclaiming your life and creating a future filled with joy, authenticity, and deep connection
- Emotional ups and downs: You may have experienced intense emotions that were difficult to handle. You could have had frequent mood swings, sudden bursts of anger, or felt overwhelmed by your feelings with little guidance on how to manage them.
- Acting younger than your age: You may have exhibited behaviors that were more typical of younger children. This could have included things like wetting the bed, sucking your thumb, or sleeping with a parent.
- Difficulty in relationships: You may have found it challenging to maintain healthy relationships that didn’t end up with a painful outcome. Trusting others might have been hard for you, or you might have been cautious or had trouble getting along with friends.
- Academic challenges: Trauma can affect our ability to concentrate, learn, and perform well in school. You may have struggled with getting lower grades, had difficulty focusing, sitting still, or completing your homework on time.
So now that we explored what may have happened in the past, what are the symptoms of childhood trauma as an adults?
- Emotional dysregulation: Adults who have experienced childhood trauma may struggle with managing their emotions. They may have intense mood swings, difficulty controlling anger or irritability, or experience emotional numbness. This may show up in the form of an anger outburst, suddenly throwing something on the ground, or completely avoidance to certain conversations.
- Relationship difficulties: Trust, intimacy, and establishing boundaries are challenging. Relationships may be marked by frequent fights or arguments, blowing things out of proportion, or struggling to provide emotional support for each other.
- Substance abuse and self-destructive behaviors: In Denver, Colorado, we have some of the highest rates for substance use in the country. Drinking has become normalized and it’s not uncommon to see adults who have experienced childhood trauma turning to substance abuse or engaging in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope with their emotional pain. Between 2017 and 2018, 11.9% of people 18 and older in Colorado reported a substance use disorder in the past year, higher than the national rate of 7.7%.
What is long term PTSD in Childhood trauma?
Also known as CPTSD refers to the enduring effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can persist into adulthood as a result of traumatic experiences during childhood. Symptoms may be similar to those with PTSD, except intensified.
We may have memory issues, difficulty making decisions, poor concentration, difficulty starting or completing tasks and even feel a disconnection from reality.
Do you ever fully heal from childhood trauma?
Through therapy, support, and personal growth, you can work on healing the wounds caused by the trauma.
You may experience significant improvements in your well-being, gain insight into the impact of the trauma, and develop effective coping strategies. Like a mended plate, you can regain functionality and stability in your life.
However, the scars and cracks from the trauma may be visible from time to time. The plate may never look exactly the same as it did before it was broken. Similarly, we may still carry the effects of the trauma to some extent. You may have residual triggers, emotional challenges, or occasional setbacks along your healing journey.
For some, reading about the lasting impact of childhood trauma and the metaphor of the broken plate may evoke strong emotions, such as anger and sadness which triggers their natural grief associated with the alternative “I wish it never happened”. It is natural to feel a sense of loss when realizing that the experience of trauma has changed you in profound ways. However, remember that this does not mean you are destined to always be and feel like a victim. Recognizing the effects of trauma is a significant step towards reclaiming your power and finding ways to live a fulfilling life.
This is where the distinction between "recovery" and "cured" comes into play. While "cured" suggests the complete elimination of all traces of the trauma, "recovery" acknowledges that the effects of the trauma may still be present, even after significant healing. It recognizes that you can lead a fulfilling and meaningful life, despite the lasting impact of your past experiences. This is what personally helped me develop humility.
Ultimately, the goal of therapy and healing from childhood trauma is to support you in your recovery journey, helping you develop resilience, improve your overall well-being, and find ways to thrive despite the challenges you have faced.
The therapeutic process provides a space where you can safely explore your experiences, process emotions, and develop new ways of relating to yourself and others. It offers an opportunity to reframe your beliefs about yourself, cultivate self-compassion, and rewrite the narrative of your life.
By engaging in trauma therapy, you open yourself up to the possibility of reclaiming your life and creating a future filled with joy, authenticity, and deep connection. The healing journey may have its ups and downs, but with each step forward, you move closer to a life where you can thrive and experience true liberation from the weight of the past.
Is it too late to heal childhood trauma?
No, it is never too late to heal childhood trauma. While the effects of childhood trauma can be long-lasting, the healing process can begin at any stage of life. The impact of childhood trauma may have influenced your beliefs, emotions, and behaviors, but with the right support and therapeutic interventions, significant healing and growth are possible.
I’ve had the privilege of leading support groups for individuals healing from trauma in Denver for over 4 years. These groups brought together a diverse range of participants, spanning different age groups from their 20s to their 80s. It was inspiring to witness the collective strength and resilience within the group as they embarked on their healing journeys.
During the group, some individuals emphasized the significance of reconnecting with their inner child. They recognized that a wounded child within them yearned for care, attention, and healing. By placing this inner child at the forefront of their healing process, they were able to address and meet the unmet needs from their past. This approach allowed them to provide the love, care, and support to their inner child that may have been lacking during their childhood.
The participants expressed a profound sense of relief as they nurtured their inner child and provided the care and attention it deserved. It was a transformative experience for them to acknowledge the pain and wounds of their past and actively work towards healing those wounded parts. Through this process, they found a greater sense of self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Reconnecting with their inner child also enabled them to cultivate a deeper understanding of themselves and their experiences. They developed a compassionate and nurturing relationship with their inner child, allowing them to integrate the fragmented aspects of their being. This integration brought about a greater sense of wholeness and authenticity.
As they shared their stories and supported one another, a strong sense of care and community developed within the group. They found solace in knowing that they were not alone in their healing journeys. They drew strength from each other's stories, insights, and encouragement. The support group became a safe space where they could freely express their emotions, share their challenges, and celebrate their victories.
At Kostic Therapy, my private practice located in the neighborhood of Greenwood Village in Denver, Colorado, I use sensorimotor psychotherapy, utilizing mindfulness techniques to support individuals in their healing journey from trauma.
In the meantime, as you begin your journey towards healing from childhood trauma, I'd like to leave you with a coping exercise that you can practice on your own if you get triggered:
- Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can be alone for a few moments.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
- Notice your body and its sensations. Pay attention to any areas of tension, discomfort, or tightness. Take a moment to gently stretch or move those areas, allowing them to release and relax.
- Engage your senses. Look around and notice five things you can see. Listen for four things you can hear. Touch three objects around you and notice their textures. Smell two pleasant scents or take a few deep breaths to smell something calming. Taste something, even if it's just a sip of water.
- Connect with the present moment. Ground yourself by feeling your feet firmly on the ground. Wiggle your toes and notice the sensation. Focus on the physical sensations of being present in your body.
- Practice self-compassion. Remind yourself that you are safe in this moment. Offer yourself kind and supportive words, such as "I am doing my best" or "I am strong and resilient."