Developmental trauma is a consequence of traumatic experiences that occur during a child’s early years. The concept of developmental trauma is used as a way to think about the distress that the adult may have been exposed to in their childhood.
The symptoms of early developmental trauma may include
- deep-seated shame,
- a sense of powerlessness,
- despairing that life can ever be valuable and satisfying
- a sense of emotional instability
- feeling isolated
A number of adults come to psychotherapy to address problems without realising that often the origins of the problem dates back to traumas that occurred during early developmental periods in their lives.
Developmental Trauma and PTSD
We have become familiar with the idea of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but mostly we think of PTSD as referring to violent events that occur to adults, war veterans, or people who have experienced a traumatic accident. But it is also the case that many children display signs of PTSD. To borrow from Bessel Van der Kolk; you don’t have to be a combat veteran to experience trauma.
Children may struggle with concentration, with attention, they may fail to thrive in school. Often the reason for this is found not in some sense of character deficit perceived in the child, but in the child’s environment.
If a child is being exposed to repeated traumatic experiences their emotional regulation will be compromised.
It can be helpful to think in terms of understanding developmental trauma
Often the language of psychological diagnoses feels alien and unhelpful. When we try to understand and think about ourselves in terms of our early development we are using ordinary, helpful language, we try to piece our stories together, to make links between events that happened to us and the consequent ways in which we have adapted. We aren’t thinking in terms of psychiatry and the DSM, we are trying to think just about the story of ourselves.
Who we are today is based upon the who we once were
We may have forgotten much of the detail of our lives, but our responses have been influenced and shaped by the things we have lived through.
This is why it is helpful to get as clear a sense as we can of our early histories. You may go to therapy because of an issue you are trying to address in the present but the more we can understand about where we have come from the better.
If as a child you experienced a number of negative and frightening early life events it is probable that these experiences will cast a shadow over your subsequent capacity to thrive and to form satisfying relationships with yourself and your creativity and with other people.
While it is always the case that events in the present or recent past might be traumatising, we may overlook the impact of early trauma on our lives and on our psychological stability. It is not only those who are directly exposed to trauma that may suffer consequences.
Trauma in childhood goes onto shape our behaviours, our attitudes, and our relationship with emotions. It affects our physical development, it becomes the basis for our most deep-seated beliefs about ourselves.
When families break up – Developmental Trauma
Someone who grew up in an unstable family home may have internalised the problems they were living through, and come to see themselves as to blame for what happened.
If as an infant your parents’ marriage fell apart, perhaps because of alcohol-related problems, and one of your parents left the family home, you may have internalised the sense of rejection. This can lead to a pattern of rejection that follows you through your life.
The child grows up to be an adult that, however successful they might be able to be, is haunted by a sense of rejection; they reject other people who try to get close, they reject themselves and their achievements.
In time the focus becomes on what is going on in the present, what is being rejected. But if that overlooks the early developmental trauma and experience of rejection that was part of that, then it becomes an incomplete picture.
- Our emotional lives and our psychological characteristics have contexts
- Things that happen to us in our early developmental years have significance
- Whether we acknowledge them or not, they set the tone for what is to come
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often key to developing a clearer understanding of ourselves, a way to build up a helpful picture of our early experiences, developmental traumas and all. This helps us to see the way developmental traumas have shaped our lives and our emotional landscapes.
The chance to reflect on your memories, feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.
I have been working with people on issues such as this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, how you became you, and how you live now.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.
Mobile: +44 7980 750376