How can you understand the effects of childhood neglect and abuse? Most people have heard of the saying “time heals all wounds.” It’s meant to imply that healing from trauma is possible with space and distance from those events.
This might actually be true in some circumstances. A little time might be all that you need to recover from a painful life setback such as an ugly breakup or an accident.
However, the ramifications of childhood neglect and abuse go much deeper. In fact, if left unaddressed, the effects of childhood abuse do not get better with time at all. Rather, they can have devastating consequences years or even decades after the childhood trauma occurred.
The ACEs Study
One important tool that has helped mental health professionals to better understand the effects of childhood neglect and abuse is the ACEs study.
This project was a collaboration between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. It included 13,494 adults who were surveyed about their childhood experiences. These were divided into seven categories, which included whether the participants had ever experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse when they were children.
What they found was striking. According to the study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine:
“Persons who had experienced four or more categories of childhood exposure, compared to those who had experienced none, had 4-12-fold increased health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempt.”
The data showed clearly that childhood abuse can and does have a traumatic effect on people long after the abuse occurred.
Why the Effects of Childhood Neglect and Abuse Last for Years
There is a reason why the effects of childhood neglect are so devastating. The answer lies in what trauma does to us.
Trauma causes an interruption in how the brain operates and functions. When we experience trauma, our brain reverts to its fight, flight, or freeze mode of thinking. This happens to protect us from any external threats. For instance, experiencing an accident or another specific situation send our body into high alert. While that moment may not last that long, it can still be very impactful.
However, with childhood trauma that mode of reacting continues long after the event(s) occurred. Why? When a child experiences daily abuse (physical, sexual, neglect) for not just a week, a month, or a year, but for several years or more, it compounds the effects. In the mental health treatment world, therapists call this complex trauma. Its impact will ripple through a person’s life from childhood well into adulthood and can result in what clinicians refer to as Complex PTSD or CPTSD.
Even if you are not currently thinking about what you’ve experienced, a trigger can cause your brain to go back to these traumatic moments. Those flashbacks can be sudden and distressing. If you have not been able to address and process this past trauma (usually through therapy), your brain will continue to act as if you are in danger.
Halting the Effects of Childhood Trauma
Trauma therapy can bring the effects of childhood neglect and abuse to an end. A therapist specializing in trauma can help you finding the resolution your brain brain and your nervous system need to heal from the abuse.
Yet, it’s not just your brain that needs help. Your “self” can feel fractured from what has happened to you. And in fact, it’s this very thing that keeps adult survivors of childhood trauma from progressing in more general types of therapy. Thus, in order to recover from childhood abuse and neglect, it’s vital to work with a trauma-informed specialist. That’s who is going to be most adept at guiding you as you bring all the pieces back together again. The intent of good trauma therapy is not to create more emotional pain. Rather, it is to finally put that pain to rest so that it no longer negatively impacts your life.
The effects of childhood neglect and abuse can be long-lasting. In order to heal the wounds of complex trauma, you most likely will need more than time. Participating in therapy and getting skilled professional help are critical to your success. Please reach out to me and find out how my approach to trauma therapy can help you heal.