How Childhood Trauma Manifests in Adulthood

How Childhood Trauma Manifests in Adulthood

There is no question that trauma has long-lasting effects on mental health. Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health disorders, including substance use.

While some instances of trauma are recognizable or apparent, it is vital to understand that trauma is subjective. Every person defines trauma and experiences it differently.

More often than not, the human mind represses trauma and pushes it into the subconscious mind. This practice is especially prominent regarding childhood trauma. When trauma is left unresolved, it can manifest in different ways in adulthood. It is essential to recognize the various signs and symptoms of unresolved trauma and to know when to seek professional treatment.

Childhood Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences

The CDC identifies childhood trauma as synonymous with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs are traumatic events experienced by a child or adolescent younger than 18 years old. ACEs may involve direct trauma, such as physical abuse or neglect and indirect trauma, such as being part of a family going through a divorce.

ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental health conditions and substance use disorders in adolescence and adulthood. These experiences can also have a significant impact on future violence and perpetration.

Risk Factors for ACEs

It is essential to recognize the risk factors involved with ACEs and associated health outcomes. Knowing these risk factors can help individuals identify their unresolved trauma and prevent ACEs from occurring in their children’s lives. The following factors may or may not be the direct cause of ACEs or trauma, although these factors increase the likelihood of these experiences.

Individual and family risk factors may include:

  • Families experiencing caregiving difficulties related to children with special needs
  • Children who lack a nurturing bond with their parents or caregivers
  • Adolescents who engage in risky behaviors, such as sexual activity, at an early age
  • Adolescents who lack friendships with others
  • Adolescents who associate with friends who engage in aggressive, deviant or delinquent behavior
  • Families with parents or caregivers that lack a proper understanding of children’s needs or development
  • Families with parents or caregivers who were abused or neglected as children
  • Families with young parents or single-parent situations
  • Families that struggle financially or have low income
  • Families with parents that hold low levels of education
  • Families with inconsistent parenting or low parental monitoring
  • Families that use corporal punishment for discipline
  • Families with high conflict and negative communication styles
  • Families with attitudes that accept or justify violence and aggression

The Role of ACEs in Development

Exposure to trauma or ACEs during childhood has a significant impact on how individuals develop and mature throughout their lives. Trauma may be one of the most detrimental impacts on youth development as, during these years, the brain is in its most formative state. Specifically, the first eight years of life are crucial for building a positive foundation for future health and wellbeing.

Trauma in childhood can lead to:

  • Chronic mental or physical illnesses
  • Disrupted attachment or problematic attachment styles
  • Cognitive delays, such as learning problems
  • Impaired emotional regulation
  • Unregulated fight-or-flight mode, which often surfaces as anxiety disorders
  • An increased likeliness of engaging in risky behaviors, such as using substances to self-medicate

Is My Childhood Trauma Still Affecting Me?

Unresolved trauma does not go away on its own. In reality, unresolved, avoided trauma will only stack up and worsen mental health symptoms over time. It is essential to reflect on your life experiences, both negative and positive, to understand better who you are and why you think and behave the way you do.

Remember that trauma is subjective. Your unresolved trauma may not necessarily be physical abuse or the death of a loved one, but it is still trauma. Here are some examples of ways that trauma can manifest in adulthood:

  • If your emotions were never validated during your childhood, you might struggle with identifying and managing your emotions as an adult. You may struggle with allowing yourself to feel sad, angry or even happy, leading to issues with self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Suppose you were often hospitalized for chronic physical or mental health conditions that separated you from your parents during your childhood. In that case, you may struggle with separation anxiety as an adult.
  • If you experienced cognitive and other learning struggles as a child but, in reality, had an undiagnosed learning disorder, you may struggle with feelings of inadequacy as an adult. The fallout of learning problems can remain with you well into adulthood, even if your diagnosis is now under control.

Healing From Childhood Trauma

Luckily, even the deepest of unresolved childhood trauma can be healed. It involves relearning and rewiring your brain to persevere beyond difficult experiences in life rather than trying to avoid them altogether.

Treatment from a mental health professional will help you address where your current mental health symptoms initially developed. Consider a trauma-informed treatment program where clinicians are well-versed on how specific traumas surface in adulthood. These programs will encourage compassion and empathy, as the staff recognizes that you are still working through a challenging part of your life. Give yourself intimate time to heal from your past.

Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction recovery treatment center. We provide trauma-informed care for all patients seeking recovery. More often than not, unresolved trauma can manifest as challenging mental health symptoms or problematic substance use. Therefore, trauma-informed treatment will help you get to the root cause of your condition. We utilize holistic treatment approaches to help sustain lifelong recovery. To learn more about the impact of childhood trauma or for more about our treatment programs, call (855) 508-0473


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.