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Childhood Trauma — The Most Impactful Pandemic

Written by: Dr. Don Wood, PhD, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dr. Don Wood, PhD

Childhood trauma is a disturbing phenomenon that can have profound and enduring effects on individuals, often persisting into adulthood. But what exactly does this entail? What kind of repercussions do these early life adverse experiences have on a person's physical and emotional health? This comprehensive article delves into the complex world of childhood trauma, unraveling its long-term ramifications and presenting potential strategies for recovery and resilience.

A man in sadness sitting on the bed

Understanding childhood trauma: An overview

Childhood trauma encapsulates a broad spectrum of distressing experiences that a child may face before reaching adulthood. These adverse events, often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can take multiple forms, each with their unique impact on the child's developing mind and body.


Key categories of ACEs

ACEs can be broadly categorized into four main groups:

  1. Abuse: This involves various forms of maltreatment, such as physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse.

  2. Neglect: This encompasses both physical and emotional neglect, where a child's basic needs for safety, nourishment, and emotional support are unmet.

  3. Household Challenges: These include a wide range of stressful situations at home, such as parental divorce, poverty, witnessing abuse, substance abuse or mental health issues in the family, serious accidents or illnesses, and loss of a loved one or pet.

  4. Community Incidents: These involve events within the community that impact the child, including natural disasters, terrorism, community or school violence, and social rejection.


These experiences can be overwhelming for a child's developing mind, often leading to elevated risk of substance use disorders, health issues, and mental health struggles later in life.


Severity and proximity: Key factors in childhood trauma

Not everyone who experiences childhood trauma endures long-term consequences. The impact of trauma varies significantly among individuals, influenced by a host of factors including:

  1. Severity of the Event: The seriousness of the traumatic event plays a crucial role in shaping its impact. Severe physical harm, life-threatening situations, or loss of a loved one can have more profound effects.

  2. Proximity to the Trauma: The closer the individual is to the traumatic event, the more significant its impact. Being a direct victim, a witness, or merely hearing about the event can all influence the trauma's effects.

  3. Caregivers' Response: How parents or caregivers respond to the trauma can significantly affect the child's ability to cope. Feeling understood and supported can foster resilience.

  4. Previous Trauma: Prior experiences of trauma can amplify the impact of subsequent traumatic events.

  5. Community Support or Backlash: The community's response to the trauma can also influence its long-term effects. A supportive environment can mitigate the risks associated with childhood trauma.

Long-term health risks associated with childhood trauma

Traumatic experiences activate a cascade of changes within the body and brain, often resulting in a ripple effect that echoes throughout the individual's life.

One of the most significant long-term effects of childhood trauma is its impact on physical health.


People who have experienced childhood trauma are at a higher risk of developing:

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Cancer

  • Stroke

  • Obesity

  • Addiction


These physical health issues often stem from the body's stress response to traumatic events. The sudden surge of stress hormones that activates the fight-or-flight response can have a lasting impact on the body's function, leading to chronic health issues down the line.

Beyond physical health, childhood trauma can also have profound emotional and psychological consequences. The emotional trauma can linger for years, impacting the individual's mental health and overall well-being.

Childhood trauma can lead to a variety of emotional issues, including:

  • Anger and aggression

  • Anxiety

  • Trust issues

  • Low self-esteem

  • Changes in appetite

  • Development of new fears

  • Increased thoughts about safety or death

  • Loss of interest in fun activities

  • Suicidal ideation

These emotional challenges often stem from the individual's struggle to process and cope with the traumatic experience.

Without proper support and intervention, these issues can persist and even escalate over time.


Environmental risks and childhood trauma

Childhood trauma doesn't just impact the individual's mental and physical health – it can also disrupt their everyday life, relationships, and career trajectory. Emotional instability due to trauma can cause a range of problems in adult life.


Potential environmental risks

Childhood trauma can lead to:

  • Poor job performance

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Challenges maintaining routines or accomplishing daily tasks

  • Academic struggles


These issues often stem from the individual's struggle to cope with the residual effects of the trauma. Without proper support and intervention, these challenges can persist and even escalate over time, further exacerbating the individual's distress.


ACE's study

The first ACE Study was conducted on 17, 337 adults that were enrolled in the Kaiser HMO in San Diego, California.

The data for the study was collected in two waves with participants receiving physical health exams and completing a confidential survey focusing on events in their childhood and their current health conditions and behaviors.

Surprisingly, two-thirds of the participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience such as abuse or neglect. The majority of those two-thirds also reported more than one high-risk health factor including smoking, alcohol abuse and obesity.

These study results answered the ACE Study’s main question; “If risk factors for disease, disability, and early mortality are not randomly distributed, what early life influences precede the adoption or development of them?”

Instead of just looking at the adult person and the risk factors that contribute to certain comorbidities, the ACE Study looked at the


person’s whole life to expose how certain childhood stressors affected the adult patient’s health and social well-being.

The study also confirmed that Adverse Childhood Experiences are quite common and not restricted to one social class. Also, most people with one adverse experience also have others.

The ACE scoring system was devised to show how the multiple adverse effects are interrelated and how they all add up to create the effects of high-risk health issues. The number of categories of ACE is added up for each participant to produce a score from 0-10.

For example, a person with a score of 0 means they did not experience any of the seven categories. An ACE score of 5 indicates the person experienced in five of the categories.

These ACE scores further prove and affirm the negative impact on a person’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, and how this can also impair the function of brain and body functions. This early damage leads not only to health risks in adulthood, but to disability, diseases, and early death as well as social problems.

The ACE Study strongly suggests reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences and understanding that many of these high-risk adult comorbidities are a direct consequence of these early life traumas will result in better overall public health.


There were seven categories in the ACE Study; psychological or sexual abuse, acts of violence against the mother, or living in a home with members who were substance abusers, mentally ill, suicidal, or family members who had spent time in jail and/or prison.

These categories were then measured against health risks and behavioral risks in adult life.

The results of the study indicated that more than 50% of the survey subjects had experienced at least one of the seven categories of childhood abuse/neglect.

Subjects who had experienced four or more of the seven categories of abuse compared to those who did not experience any were more at risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and thoughts of suicide.


Other long-term effects of a dysfunctional home life included more likelihood of smoking, overall poor health, increase in sexual partners and sexually transmitted disease along with more sedentary lives leading to obesity.

The seven categories in the Adverse Childhood Experience surveys also showed a definite relationship between children who experienced one or more of these categories tended to develop serious adult diseases.

According to the survey, health problems linked to the ACE Score Risk Factors included alcohol abuse, smoking, illicit and IV drug abuse, obesity, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, teen


pregnancies, domestic violence, pulmonary diseases, heart, and liver disease all leading to an early death. Overall, quality of life.


Since its inception in the mid-nineties, Adverse Childhood Experience Study has been rated as the largest-scale study ever done regarding the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan.


How to heal: The importance of support


While the effects of childhood trauma can be profound and long-lasting, it's crucial to remember that they are not insurmountable. With the right support and therapeutic interventions, individuals can navigate their healing journey and mitigate the long-term consequences of their traumatic experiences.


At the Inspired Performance Institute, we offer trauma-informed therapy to help individuals overcome their childhood trauma and lead fulfilling lives. We believe that every day of your life has value, as does every step of your recovery journey.


Whether you're a survivor of childhood trauma or a loved one supporting a survivor, remember that help is available, and it's never too late to start the healing process. As we continue to unravel the complexities of childhood trauma and its long-term effects, we pave the way for more effective interventions and a brighter future for survivors.


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Dr. Don Wood, PhD Brainz Magazine
 

Dr. Don Wood, PhD, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Don Wood, Ph.D., author, speaker, Founder & CEO of the Inspired Performance Institute and creator of the patented TIPP method. TIPP is a cutting-edge method inspired and developed through the newest developments in neuroscience and designed to clear away the effects of disturbing or traumatic events, repurpose old patterns, and set the individual’s mind up for peak performance. In essence, it “REBOOTs” the brain’s stuck thought pattern, making it possible to enhance alpha oscillations with a noninvasive and effective shift in brain wave activity. Author of two top-selling books, Emotional Concussions and You Must Be Out of your Mind.

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