The Psychological Effects of Trauma
Attachment & Relationships
The majority of abused or neglected children/adult survivors have difficulty developing strong healthy attachments. They have trouble controlling and expressing emotions, and may react violently or inappropriately to situations. A child/adult survivor with a complex trauma history may have problems in romantic relationships, in friendships, and with authority figures.
Physical Health – Body & Brain
Stress in an environment can impair the development of the brain and nervous system. An absence of mental stimulation in neglectful environments may limit the brain from developing to its full potential. Complexly traumatized youth/adult survivors frequently suffer from body dysregulation, meaning they over-respond or under-respond to sensory stimuli.
Children/adult survivors who have experienced complex trauma often have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions, and may have limited language for feeling states. They often internalize and/or externalize stress reactions and as a result may experience significant depression, anxiety, or anger.
Dissociation is often seen in survivors with histories of complex trauma. When they encounter an overwhelming and terrifying experience, they may dissociate, or mentally separate themselves from the experience. They may perceive themselves as detached from their bodies, on the ceiling, or somewhere else in the room watching what is happening to their bodies.
A survivor with a complex trauma history may be easily triggered or “set off” and is more likely to react intensely. They may struggle with self-regulation (i.e., knowing how to calm down) and may lack impulse control or the ability to think through consequences before acting.
Survivors with complex trauma histories may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. They may be unable to plan ahead, anticipate the future, and act accordingly. When children grow up under conditions of constant threat, all their internal resources go toward survival.
Self Concept & Future Orientation
Children learn their self-worth from the reactions of others, particularly those closest to them. Caregivers have the greatest influence on a child’s sense of self-worth and value. Abuse and neglect make a child feel worthless and despondent. A child who is abused will often blame him or herself.