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Childhood Trauma: The Dirty Secrets No One Likes to Talk About

By Brandy Browne

A renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry, wrote in his book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, “The most traumatic aspects of all disasters involve the shattering of human connections. And this is especially true for children. Being harmed by the people who are supposed to love you, being abandoned by them, being robbed of one on one relationships that allow you to feel safe and valued and to become humane—these are profoundly destructive experiences. Because humans are inescapably social beings, the world catastrophes that can befall us inevitably involve relational loss. As a result, recovery from trauma and neglect is also all about relationships—rebuilding trust, regaining confidence, returning to a sense of security and reconnecting to love” (Perry, 2017, p 259). In other words, the greatest trauma occurs when someone that is loved and trusted physically, mentally, or emotionally hurts another person and shatters the trust in positive relationships.

In her text Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma, Barbara Sorrels (2018) relates two types of trauma. Acute trauma occurs with a single exposure to a traumatic event, such as witnessing a car accident or even dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic. Complex trauma occurs when a child is exposed to “multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature…and early life exposure” (Sorrels, 2018). Physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence, and abandonment fall into this category. Healing from trauma involves the concept of restructuring the notion of relationship and typically occurs across the lifespan, as it is a long term process. Overall, we have found that enduring trauma during childhood or adolescence has adverse effects on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health across the lifespan. The human services and counseling sectors must continuously develop treatment plans that focus on preventing and healing those who have endured trauma.

In recent years, there has been a focus placed on the physical effects of trauma endured during childhood across the lifespan. Specifically, there has been a strong link found between experiencing trauma in childhood and chronic inflammation. When stress occurs, it causes an “activation of the amygdala and consequently of the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn triggers activation of immune cells and the inflammatory response” (Danese, 2017). This inflammation puts trauma survivors at risk for health problems across the lifespan. For example, Danese and Lewis (2017) write that “ because the development of the immune system is not completed at birth, but rather continues throughout childhood, environmental stimulation in childhood years can have profound effects on the immune system.” In other words, traumatic experiences can lower one’s ability to ward off illness and disease, which means that survivors are at risk of other illnesses. Cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, and various mental health issues are just some of the physical effects that survivors of childhood trauma often experience (Danese, 2017).

To read the paper in it’s entirety, visit

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