the question isn’t “what‘s wrong with you?” but “what happened to you?”

The American Psychological Association defines a traumatic event as “one that threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time it occurs.”

The SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative has reported research that shows that over 60% of all children experience at least one traumatic event by age 16.

How adverse childhood experiences manifest into mental health issues in adults becomes more apparent as more research is conducted and reported. Still, we know that women who experience childhood trauma, particularly sexual or physical violence, are up to four times as likely to live with anxiety and depression.

childhood traumatic events and results defined

as a child, did you experience...

  • Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse
  • Violence in the home or community
  • Bullying
  • Sudden passing of a parent or sibling
  • A natural disaster
  • Substance abuse in the home
  • Neglect
  • A life-threatening illness

Experiencing one or more of these types of events and not receiving any treatment or therapy can be a precursor to developing a mental health condition as an adult, and trauma survivors often experience:

  • Difficulty in establishing or maintaining relationships (fear of intimacy)
  • Frequent feelings of shame or guilt
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Difficulty regulating emotions (sudden outbursts of anger)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of focus
  • Substance abuse
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidance of external reminders

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

― Laurell K. Hamilton

No two women experience childhood trauma the same way. They may not react to it the same way either, but there are common mental health issues that may be experienced in adulthood.

mental health disorders

Childhood trauma has been linked to depression, substance use disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and more.

Turning to food, alcohol, or drugs as a method of self-medicating or coping with the negative emotions is common.

unhealthy relationships

Women who experience childhood trauma often find themselves in relationships with those who may be emotionally unavailable or abusive, which often leads to a whole new cycle of trauma.

Many of these women are aware of their past and know what they need and want, yet, they choose unhealthy options due to unconscious influences from their childhood. Often, traumatic feelings are familiar, and many will choose abusive relationships, regardless if they are aware they are not making the choices they should be making.

childhood amnesia

Many women who suffered a traumatic childhood can’t remember large portions of those years. This is known as “blocking,” a defense mechanism for avoiding painful feelings or memories.

Vivid memories or events without any context may feel as though your childhood was stolen, which can lead to problems with self-identity and low self-esteem in adulthood.

relationship avoidance

Women who experienced childhood trauma over time may lack social skills and the desire for close relationships as an adult. They may feel unworthy or too damaged to develop or sustain meaningful relationships.

This is different from being introverted as introverts refuel their energy stores when alone but still seek social interaction and intimate relationships.

chronic illness

Trauma doesn’t just affect the brain. It can make its way into your body and physically present itself later in the form of obesity, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, digestive disorders, heart disease, and even cancer.

getting help: trauma-informed care

“What is wrong with you” is often the result of “what happened to you.” More and more healthcare providers are beginning to understand how your past influences your present. There are ways to control how your trauma has impacted you mentally and physically, so you can begin enjoying a happier, healthier, more balanced life. It all starts with you taking that first step and asking for help. There is no shame in that. In fact, it could be the most courageous thing you can do for yourself!

To learn more about different mental health conditions and their symptoms, visit the mental health definitions page.