Childhood Trauma: 10 Great Treatments to Help Heal

Posted on October 18, 2023

Wondering about healing childhood trauma in adults? Lots of people are.

Experiencing distressing and painful situations as a child can cast a long, dark shadow on our lives. Childhood trauma, whether from physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence, can have a deep and lasting impact.

Trauma can seep into every part of our being. It can make it challenging to form healthy connections, handle emotions, and increase the risk of mental health issues.

The weight of such experiences can also dramatically increase the chance of addiction in adulthood. But there’s hope. People can overcome addiction and reclaim their lives by recognizing and healing from deep-seated childhood traumas.

Common Types Of Childhood Trauma

Unfortunately, traumatic childhood experiences can manifest in various forms. Some of the most common types of early life distress experienced by children include:

  • PHYSICAL ABUSE: This type of early-life trauma involves intentionally using physical force that harms or injures a child. It can include hitting, punching, kicking, burning, or any other form of physical violence.
  • SEXUAL ABUSE: Involve any sexual activity or exploitation imposed on a child by an adult or older individual. It includes molestation, rape, incest, or exposure to explicit material.
  • EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Children who experience persistent emotional mistreatment that leads to psychological harm experience emotional trauma. This can include constant criticism, humiliation, rejection, belittling, or threats of violence.
  • NEGLECT: This type of trauma happens when a parent or caregiver doesn’t meet a child’s essential needs – physical, emotional, or educational. It can involve inadequate supervision and failure to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or emotional support.
  • WITNESSING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Traumatic childhood experiences can also occur when a child witnesses or is exposed to violence between adults, such as physical or verbal abuse between parents or caregivers. The impact on the child can be significant, even if they are not the direct target of the violence.
  • COMMUNITY VIOLENCE: It’s when kids see things like shootings, gang activities, or get bullied or assaulted in their community. This can happen in neighborhoods, schools, or other places in the community.
  • TRAUMATIC LOSS: This type of childhood trauma happens when a child loses someone significant, like a parent, sibling, or close relative. It can also include separation from caregivers due to divorce, abandonment, or foster care placements.

It is important to note that childhood trauma can occur as a single incident or be ongoing. Either way, it can have lasting effects on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

Seeking support and appropriate interventions from mental health professionals is crucial. This will help children heal and recover from these traumatic experiences and avoid addiction later in life.

Young boy covering his face after experiencing childhood trauma

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

How Early Life Distress Affects The Brain & Psyche 

Early life distress (trauma) profoundly impacts the brain and psyche. When children experience traumatic events, their developing brain undergoes significant changes. Their stress response becomes hypersensitive, which can lead to an exaggerated and prolonged release of stress hormones like cortisol.

This change disrupts the brain’s balance. It also hinders the development of brain areas responsible for emotions, memory, and decision-making. The psyche is also affected.

Individuals who experience early life distress often live with intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and hypervigilance. They are always on the lookout for potential threats.

They also often see the world in a distorted way, making it hard to trust others and feel safe in relationships. These thoughts and feelings can cause low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness.

Long-term consequences of untreated childhood trauma can lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Struggles in maintaining healthy relationships with family members.

Understanding the impact of childhood trauma on the brain and psyche is crucial for promoting healing and recovery. By offering support, therapy, and a safe environment, individuals who’ve experienced childhood trauma can rebuild their neural pathways. They can also develop healthy coping methods and become more resilient.

How Does Abuse Affect Emotional Regulation?

Trauma in the early years deeply affects emotional regulation, shaping how individuals navigate and express their emotions. Traumatic memories often resurface unexpectedly, intensifying emotional responses.

Many adults who have untreated childhood trauma deal with:

  • HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY: Trauma can cause heightened emotional sensitivity, where individuals may experience intense emotional reactions to various stimuli. This hypersensitivity can make it challenging to regulate emotions effectively, as even minor triggers can evoke solid and overwhelming responses.
  • EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION: Early trauma can disrupt the growth of healthy coping skills, making it hard for people to control their emotions in a balanced way. This can lead to intense mood swings, trouble calming down after distress, or long periods of emotional dysregulation.
  • DIFFICULTY IDENTIFYING EMOTIONS: Trauma can interfere with identifying and labeling one’s emotions accurately. Individuals may have difficulty distinguishing between different emotions or struggle to articulate what they are feeling. This can further complicate the process of regulating emotions effectively.
  • IMPULSIVITY AND SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS: Childhood trauma can make people act impulsively. When emotions become too much to handle, they might do things without thinking. This can result in self-destructive actions like using drugs, self-harm, or doing risky things. These actions might provide short-term relief from emotional pain.
  • AVOIDANCE AND EMOTIONAL NUMBING: Some people might develop ways to avoid or numb their feelings because of childhood trauma. They could shut down emotionally or disconnect from their feelings completely (numbing). This can make it hard for them to handle emotions in a healthy way.

It’s really important to know how childhood trauma affects our ability to control our emotions. Managing childhood trauma in adults requires specialized therapy.

Effective Trauma-informed therapies such as:

  • • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
  • • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

can help us learn to manage our emotions, cope with stress, and enhance our overall emotional well-being.

How Does Trauma Affect A Child’s Attachment Styles and Relationships? 

Trauma in the early years can also profoundly influence attachment styles and relationships, shaping how individuals form connections and navigate intimacy. These effects can persist into adult life, impacting future relationships.

Many adolescents and adults with unresolved childhood trauma have:

  • INSECURE ATTACHMENT: Childhood trauma can lead to insecure attachment styles characterized by difficulties trusting and relying on others. Traumatic experiences can disrupt the development of secure attachment, leading to anxious or avoidant attachment patterns. Anxious attachment may manifest as clinginess, fear of abandonment, and a constant need for reassurance. In contrast, avoidant attachment can cause emotional distance, fear of intimacy, and a reluctance to depend on others.
  • FEAR OF VULNERABILITY: Adverse childhood experiences can instill a deep-seated fear of vulnerability in relationships. Trauma survivors may have emotional walls as a protective mechanism, making establishing deep, meaningful connections challenging. The fear of getting hurt or betrayed hinders individuals from opening up, sharing emotions, and fully engaging in relationships.
  • DIFFICULTY WITH BOUNDARIES: Traumatic childhood experiences can disrupt the development of healthy boundaries. Survivors may struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries, oscillating between being overly enmeshed with others or completely shutting people out. This can create challenges in establishing balanced, respectful relationships and recognizing one’s needs versus those of others.
  • PATTERNS OF REENACTMENT: Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may unknowingly recreate familiar patterns in their relationships. This can involve seeking out partners or situations that mirror the dynamics of their traumatic experiences, perpetuating a cycle of abuse or neglect. Without intervention, these patterns can persist, hindering the formation of healthy and nurturing relationships.
  • TRUST ISSUES: Trauma in our formative years can erode trust in others and oneself. Trauma survivors may struggle to trust others’ intentions, fearing betrayal or harm. They may also struggle with self-trust, doubting their judgment and worthiness of love and care. These trust issues can greatly affect the forming of secure and authentic connections with others.

Understanding how childhood trauma affects attachment styles and relationships is vital for promoting healing and healthy relationships. Therapy, especially trauma-informed approaches like attachment-based therapies, can help people:

  • Develop secure attachment patterns.
  • Establish healthy boundaries.
  • Build trust in themselves and others.

With support and understanding, individuals can navigate the complexities of relationships and work toward forming fulfilling secure connections.

How Do The Effects Of Childhood Trauma Increase The Risk For Addiction? 

Research shows that early trauma significantly increases the risk of developing addiction and mental health disorders in adulthood (National Library of Medicine). Here’s how:

  • COPING MECHANISM: Individuals who have experienced trauma in the early years may turn to addictive substances or behaviors to cope with their past traumas’ overwhelming emotions and distress. Substance abuse can temporarily numb painful memories and provide a false sense of relief or escape.
  • SELF-MEDICATION: Trauma survivors often struggle with persistent emotional pain, anxiety, depression, and other psychological symptoms. They may attempt to self-medicate these symptoms through substance use, as drugs and alcohol temporarily relieve their distressing feelings.
  • IMPAIRED EMOTIONAL REGULATION: Childhood trauma can also disrupt the development of healthy coping skills, including the ability to regulate emotions effectively. This can cause difficulties in managing stress, impulsivity, and an increased risk of seeking immediate gratification through addictive substances.
  • NEUROBIOLOGICAL CHANGES: Trauma affects how the brain’s reward system and stress response work. When stress hormones are constantly present during trauma, it can permanently change the brain. This leads to being more sensitive to stress and a higher risk of developing addictive behaviors.
  • CO-OCCURRING MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS:   Early trauma often coexists with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. These disorders can increase the risk of addiction because individuals might use substances to cope with their distressing symptoms.
  • SOCIAL FACTORS: Childhood trauma can disrupt social connections and impair the development of healthy relationships. The resulting feelings of isolation and disconnection can drive individuals towards substance use to seek solace or fit in with specific peer groups.

Recognizing the connection between trauma and addiction is crucial for developing practical treatment approaches. By dealing with the root trauma, giving trauma-informed care, and offering strong support, people can start healing from their past pain. This helps them break free from addiction’s cycle.

10 Holistic Ways to Overcome Childhood Trauma Addictions 

Treating addiction caused by trauma is a complex process that typically requires professional help. With dedication and professional support, individuals can overcome childhood trauma based addiction and lead healthier lives.

Here are some general steps and strategies that can be beneficial in addressing addiction related to trauma from youth:

  1. RECOGNIZE AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRAUMA: It’s crucial to understand and accept that addiction often comes from childhood trauma. This recognition can be the first step towards healing.
  2. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP: Seek professional help: Consult a therapist or counselor experienced in trauma and addiction. They can help you explore and process the traumatic experiences from your childhood while also addressing the addiction.
  3. ESTABLISH A SUPPORT NETWORK: Create a strong support system with people you trust. They can offer emotional support, encouragement, and understanding during your recovery journey. This might include friends, family, support groups, or addiction recovery programs.
  4. ATTEND THERAPY: Engage in therapy sessions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or trauma-focused therapy. These therapeutic approaches can help you address the underlying trauma, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and manage triggers and cravings.
  5. PRACTICE SELF-CARE: Focus on self-care activities that promote your overall well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness, meditation, proper sleep, and healthy eating. Engaging in enjoyable activities can also help reduce stress and promote a sense of fulfillment.
  6. EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES: Consider complementary approaches such as art therapy, yoga, acupuncture, or equine therapy. These can help facilitate emotional expression, relaxation, and healing.
  7. DEVELOP HEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS: Learn and practice alternative coping mechanisms to replace unhealthy addiction-related behaviors. This could include engaging in hobbies, seeking creative outlets, journaling, or participating in support group meetings.
  8. ADDRESS CO-OCCURRING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES: Many people with addiction and trauma backgrounds also have other mental health problems like anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Treating these issues along with addiction can be really important for a successful recovery.
  9. BUILD RESILIENCE: Build resilience by developing skills to manage stress, regulate emotions, and navigate challenging situations. This may involve working with a therapist or taking part in resilience-building programs.
  10. PRACTICE PATIENCE AND SELF-COMPASSION: Recovery takes time, and setbacks can occur. Be patient with yourself and practice self-compassion. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and forgive yourself for setbacks.
Young adult in therapy talking about his childhood trauma and getting help

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

7 Therapeutic Approaches and Coping Strategies for Overcoming Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma can leave lasting scars, but there are effective therapeutic approaches and coping strategies that can help individuals on their journey to healing and recovery. These approaches empower individuals to regain control over their lives and break free from the cycle of addiction.

1. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT):

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and therapeutic approach designed to assist individuals in overcoming childhood trauma. It can be particularly beneficial for those who have experienced various forms of early life distress. CPT involves:

  • Cognitive Restructuring: CPT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to their traumatic experiences. By reshaping these thoughts, individuals can change how they feel about themselves and their past.
  • Processing Traumatic Memories: Under the guidance of a trained therapist, CPT allows individuals to confront and process traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment. This process can be emotionally challenging but is a crucial step toward healing.

Working closely with a therapist experienced in CPT is essential for a successful journey towards recovery. They can provide guidance and support throughout the process, helping individuals navigate the complexities of their trauma.

2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another valuable approach for individuals dealing with the aftermath of childhood trauma. DBT focuses on enhancing emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. Key aspects of DBT include:

  • Emotional Regulation: DBT equips individuals with strategies to manage intense emotions that often stem from traumatic experiences. By learning to recognize and control these emotions, individuals can reduce impulsive behaviors and establish emotional stability.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: DBT emphasizes effective communication and relationship-building skills. This is crucial for those who may struggle with trust and connection due to past trauma. Skilled DBT therapists provide guidance and support in improving interpersonal interactions.

DBT therapy sessions are an opportunity for individuals to work closely with a therapist who specializes in this approach. Together, they explore strategies to manage emotions and build healthier relationships.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation:

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can be transformative for individuals healing from childhood trauma. These techniques promote emotional well-being and reduce stress. Consider the following:

  • Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment, without judgment. It can help individuals reduce anxiety, manage intrusive thoughts related to trauma, and enhance self-awareness.
  • Incorporating Mindfulness: Encourage individuals to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives. This can include mindfulness meditation exercises, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking moments to focus on the sensations and experiences of the present moment.
  • Resources: There are numerous resources and apps available that offer guided meditation exercises and mindfulness practices. These tools can be helpful for those starting their mindfulness journey.

4. Art Therapy and Creative Expression:

Art therapy and creative expression provide powerful outlets for processing emotions and traumatic experiences. These activities can unlock healing and self-discovery:

  • Art as Healing: Art therapy encourages individuals to express their emotions and experiences through creative means such as painting, drawing, or journaling. The act of creating art can be cathartic and provide insight into one’s feelings.
  • Exploring Creativity: Encourage individuals to explore creative activities that resonate with them. It’s not about the end result but the process of self-expression and reflection.
  • Success Stories: Share stories of individuals who have found healing and catharsis through creative expression. These stories can inspire others to embark on their creative journey.

5. Building Resilience:

Resilience is a vital quality for overcoming childhood trauma. It helps individuals navigate adversity and recover from setbacks. Consider these points:

  • Resilience Defined: Define resilience and stress its importance in the recovery process. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and adapt positively to life’s challenges.
  • Resilience-Building Programs: Discuss resilience-building programs and strategies, including developing problem-solving skills, setting realistic goals, and cultivating a support network. These programs can empower individuals to face difficulties with greater strength.
  • Practical Tips: Offer practical tips for enhancing resilience in daily life. Encourage individuals to seek out supportive relationships, engage in physical activity, and practice self-care to bolster their resilience.

6. Family Involvement and Support:

Involving family members in the healing process can be transformative. Family support plays a pivotal role in recovery:

  • Family’s Significance: Highlight the significance of involving family members in discussions about childhood trauma and addiction recovery. Family support can provide a sense of belonging and encouragement.
  • Effective Communication: Provide guidance on how to communicate effectively with family members about traumatic experiences and the recovery journey. Open and honest communication can foster understanding and empathy.
  • Resources and Support Groups: Suggest resources or support groups specifically designed for family members of trauma survivors. These resources can help families better comprehend the challenges their loved ones are facing.

7. Self-Compassion and Patience:

Self-compassion and patience are essential qualities on the path to recovery. Emphasize their significance:

  • Practicing Self-Compassion: Encourage individuals to be kind and understanding toward themselves.

We Can Help 

With help and commitment, people can overcome addiction from childhood trauma and have a better, more satisfying life. Our programs, rooted in evidence-based therapies, can help make that happen. Contact us today to speak to one of our trauma therapists or recovery experts.


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