Thoughts from a Christian Counselor
Part 1 of a 2-Part Coping with Childhood Trauma Series
What is Considered Trauma?
According to the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, trauma can be defined as “direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s personal integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate” (2000, p. 463). It is also important to note that the DSM includes child sexual abuse under the umbrella of trauma, even though this may not involve violence or injury. A traumatic event for a child may include watching a parent die from cancer, being on campus during a school shooting, having a near-death experience, or experiencing inappropriate touch from an adult. The level of trauma may vary between individuals. Children in the same family may experience the same traumatic event but have different emotional outcomes. A child’s age, emotional maturity, support, and proximity to the traumatic event can all play a part in the impact the trauma has on the child.
The Impact of Trauma on Children
Studies of adults in North America have found that 25-25 percent of women and 10-20 percent of men report having been sexually abused as children, while 10-20 percent of men and women report having been physical abused (Briere & Scott, 2006). Unfortunately child abuse is a reality for many people and, if left untreated, can result in negative consequences later in life. The trauma experienced in childhood can not only result in psychological disturbance, but can also lead to further abuse later in life. Although resilient, children have a tendency to internalize false meaning around a traumatic event. For example, if a younger sibling is battling cancer and the parents need to attend fully to the ill child, the older siblings may assume that it was their bad behavior that caused the imbalance in the family. Or sexual assault as a child may be internalized as something that they “deserved” or asked for in some way. Because children’s brains are not fully developed, they do their best to understand the traumatic event and its implications for their environment. As a result, trauma can leave children fearful of objects, certain people, intimacy, or anything else that may remind them of the past trauma.
The Implications for Adulthood
These anxieties and fears are often carried into adulthood, as past traumas can leave some people struggling to feel secure and successful. Many adults don’t realize the connection between their current struggles and their past trauma until they process their problems with a therapist who is trained to make these types of observations. Unattended childhood trauma can lead to a discomfort with intimacy, increased anxiety in certain areas of life, insecurities, or lifelong struggles with shame. One of the most devastating implications of childhood trauma is the inability to be vulnerable with others and to develop meaningful relationships.
Christian Counseling to Overcome Childhood Trauma
In the following article, I will discuss more specific ways in which therapy can help one to overcome childhood trauma. But if you recognize yourself in this article and realize that you are being held captive by events in your childhood, please reach out for help. Christian counseling can provide a safe space in which to bring to light the events of the past, enabling you to understand how they have impacted your life, and freeing you from their burden. As a Christian counselor, I am trained in enabling people to overcome the traumas of the past and would love to walk with you on this journey. To find out more about Christian counseling, please contact me here.
*Treatment for Childhood trauma will be addressed in the following article.
* Briere, J. & Scott, C. (2006). Principles of Trauma Therapy: A Guide to Symptoms, Evaluation, and Treatment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
* Pace, P. (2012). Lifespan Integration: Connecting Ego States Through Time. Roslyn, WA: Lifespan Integration LCC.
“Girl by bonfire,” courtesy of Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com; “untitled 931,” courtesy of _Dinkel, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)