What is childhood trauma?

Childhood trauma is a result of one or more combination of abuse, neglect or household dysfunctions.

Abuse

Emotional scarring can happened when parents or caregivers yell, scold, drag or pull the child during an argument or conflict. It can also be constant blaming, minimizing of the child’s rights and needs, making him/her feel unseen and unheard for. If the child is still not “obedient”, the rod will be taken out or the child will be withdrawn of material needs or the “love” of parents.

The child can grow up believing that himself or herself is not worthy of love, is weak, powerless. There can be outbursts of anger to periods of feeling depressed. For children who had been sexually abused, they carry the pain, shame, helplessness, fear, anger to the very present day they lived in.

Neglect

On the opposite spectrum of actively doing something to the child, the child can also be made to feel alone in fending for himself or herself in the world. They are not protected, well fed, have clean clothing over them or have someone to care for them when they fell ill. Not to mentioned about emotional guidance along the way. The actions that they do have no bearing on the adults and the child basically can do whatever that he or she likes.

The child can grow up feeling perpetually on survival mode, unloved, lost and angry at some point in time.

Household Dysfunctions

Growing up in an unstable and unsafe environment can also be detrimental to the physical and emotional development of the child. Imagine a child who has to constantly worry for the safety of his/her caregivers. “What if they die, get incarcerated, or get divorced? What will I become? Where will I go?” Living on the edge, feeling like their sense of safety is threatened everyday can significantly change the neurological, endocrine and immune systems functions1.


Toxic stress from living through all the different traumatic experiences mentioned above can affect the development of brain structures which interferes with concentration, memory, learning and executive functions. Raised cortisol level (the stress hormone) affects the circadian rhythm (which is the sleep cycle). Poor health may also result as chronic stress is linked to chronic inflammation.

Trauma is damaging in its own right, but people who survived through it are definitely stronger than it.

  1. Boullier, M., & Blair, M. (2018). Adverse childhood experiences. Paediatrics and Child Health28(3), 132-137.

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