It doesn’t come as a surprise that the early childhood experiences of trauma will affect adult mental health later in life. And yet, somehow, many people continue to rely primarily on pharmaceuticals and medication management to address the impact of trauma on the human mind – a physiological solution to a psychological problem. Why is that? And how do we make sense of the real impact early childhood trauma has on adult mental health?
Common problems that result from trauma
I wouldn’t be telling you anything new if I simply reiterated the symptoms that the experience of any traumatic event may cause as a result – severe anxiety, fear, substance abuse, depression, manic and hypomanic states, promiscuity, self-doubt, low self-esteem, difficulties with daily functioning, rocky relationships, etc.
The one problem we fail to mention
However, I do want to stress one important consequence of early childhood trauma that affects every aspect of adult mental health and may be the reason why people prefer medication over psychotherapy as a treatment method – a profoundly wounded sense of trust in human beings.
I cannot stress this enough:
early childhood trauma not only affects our psychological well being and, if unaddressed, causes a myriad of mental disorders and symptoms in adulthood, but it also puts a giant hole in our ability to trust others and to form lasting and satisfying relationships.
Of course, everyone is different and people respond differently to traumatic experiences. But for the most part, especially if the traumatic experiences occurred within the home, church or school environment, the very places that are supposed to provide safety and comfort, our belief in the goodness of people becomes highly questionable.
When trauma occurs at home
Now, imagine (or maybe remember) that you were a child, who got severely beaten, criticized and humiliated by your father (this is just an example, to illustrate my point; it could be a mother, aunt, or uncle, etc. and it could be any type of traumatic experience). You learned how to be extremely careful about what you did and what you said so that not to piss him off, and most importantly, you became hyper vigilant as to his every move and facial expression in order to survive. Maybe you disliked your dad but you were even angrier with the rest of the family members for doing nothing to protect you.
Trust in people is broken
Now imagine that you are an adult struggling with severe anxiety and have a hard time maintaining stable relationships as a result. You want to do something about it but you really don’t trust anybody out there. Let’s say you have two choices – find a medication that will relieve the pressure and help you function or find a therapist to talk to.
Hm… Finding a therapist and then going to see them week after week for who-knows-how-long in a close, intimate space, just you and the therapist in one room? It may seem safer to try and deal with it on your own… but I hope you don’t. It’s much easier to destroy trust than it is to build it, but once you have, it makes all the difference in the world. Meds help but give a person a try too…
So how does early childhood trauma affect adult mental health?
It impacts our ability to believe in the goodness of humanity and to trust people. It makes us seek comfort in substances or dysfunctional relationships; it brings us into broken homes and pushes us to repeat with others what has been done onto us. It makes us doubt others but most importantly, it could makes us hate ourselves. And yet,
People are resilient creatures
If there is one thing that I have learned from my experience working with people, who have experienced trauma, it is that humans are highly RESILIENT and STRONG creatures, who would do anything to survive. I try and build on that in psychoanalytic psychotherapy by focusing on building a safe, trusting and empowering therapeutic environment, in which people can begin to uncover the layers upon layers of unspoken experiences.
Can you relate to this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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