How Does Childhood Abuse Become PTSD in Adults?

Girl Cuddling with Stuffed Bear

Childhood abuse is not survived without scars.

Many survivors live with wounds that others can’t see. You do your best to try to manage, but as the years go by, coping becomes harder and harder and zaps all of your energy.

These old wounds weren’t healed with time, as you hoped they would be. Instead, they were painfully transformed into something adult, pervasive and entrenched: post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD can be the result of a difficult early life history. But how exactly does PTSD develop from child abuse? What happens to make a painful childhood experience become an adult’s ongoing internal battle with anxiety and fear, in addition to, low self esteem and confidence issues?

Let’s break down some of the key factors:

Primary Ways Childhood Abuse Becomes Adult PTSD:

Repetitious childhood abuse was psychologically overwhelming

Certain child abuse circumstances can make adult PTSD longer lasting and more intense. Chronic abuse has a layered, cumulative impact. Consequently, long-term childhood abuse incurs a higher risk of severe post-traumatic symptoms that stretches far into a child’s future. The sheer number of events and the intensity of those events, was more than your young mind could resolve without loving, caring and aware adults who could reach out for professional help.

An abuser’s position of trust is too difficult to reconcile

Many times the abuser may be someone a child knows and loves. When that happens, the child may be bewildered and confused while he/she wrestles with the conflicting feelings, as well as, the betrayal of relationship and authority. That child can grow into an adult who sees that world through eyes of distrust. Furthermore, you may live in a post-traumatic state of suspicion or distrust that heightens your anxiety.

Child abuse can physically change the brain

When you experience trauma in your early developmental years, the mind is then on constant alert for a threat or state of emergency. The mind’s highest priority is to protect you and thus the mind will trigger Fight or Flight if there is a perceived threat. Your brain is trained first and foremost to be on alert and on the defensive.

Surviving all these difficult experiences you move into adulthood.  Your brain’s default setting has now become hyper-vigilant, always scanning for  a threat, highly reactive. You are unaware because all this takes place at a subconscious level without words. All you are aware of is anxiety and stress which complicates your ability to think clearly and be calm.

Thus, the over reactive behaviors common to PTSD become more and more apparent as the years march on. Excessive anger, continually shutting down and shutting people out, or self-medicating with substance abuse, may get in the way of the life you want to live.

Childhood abuse caused you to become avoidant or numb

Abuse survivors know what it is to feel dangerously out of control and powerless. PTSD develops from a need for mental escape and protection. It isn’t unusual for that early sense of helplessness to translate into an adult preoccupation with controlling your interactions, environment and the people around you.

If you’ve learned that abuse memories feel overwhelming, you may have learned to avoid anything or everything that reminds you of those events. While this can be exhausting, you’d rather not have anything to do with the past or be blindsided by recollections of your abuse.

Or perhaps, rather than avoidance, you’re coping with numbness. Numbness not only deadens the pain but also the joy and happiness in life. You may have learned that people are unreliable. So, you automatically relate to people from a place of estranged detachment. You are unable to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Even if you interact with others socially or in a career capacity, attempting to express emotions feels alien, uncomfortable and dangerous.

Dissociation has become a way of life

As a child, you may have survived abuse by suspending reality. You had no way to understand or make sense of it. It was a protective measure that was meant to keep your mind safe from being overwhelmed in the short-term.

If that practice, called dissociation, persists, it becomes another PTSD marker. Continuing to wall off the past and the emotional fallout builds an emotional storm against your door. And the storm builds and builds with time. Your PTSD symptoms just continue to mount and anxiety is further exacerbated.

You may feel frustrated and perpetually on edge, unable to connect or control your feelings and reactions as your present life layers on top of buried feelings. The more you try not to deal with thoughts and feelings the more they surface and interrupt your life.

Abused children experience trauma of the body and mind that can get locked in their adult bodies

Pent up emotional tension stored in your mind and body may present itself through re-experiencing the trauma, physical ailment, and an inability to rest or relax. Unaddressed, the responses can become overwhelming.

Throughout your day a smell, sound, or touch may trigger PTSD.  At night, nightmares may further drive your PTSD. Although you feel exhausted, sleep evades you and insomnia can ensue. Feeling depleted and worn out your mind may begin the cycle of negative anxious thinking.

Perceived personal threat or continued exposure to an abuser can fuel PTSD

If someone close to you threatened bodily harm, an embarrassment of some type, or withholding of provisions, you may have lived your entire childhood years feeling terrified and unsafe. Especially if your abuser remained in close proximity to you.

All children deserve a safe childhood. You deserved a safe childhood. Losing that safety to betrayal, abuse, and ongoing attacks may have lead to the desire to protect yourself at all costs. PTSD tendencies to remain on high alert or hyper-vigilant became a way of survival that once worked for you but may no longer be working to your benefit.

You have survived the hard part. You have lived through all this on your own. You are a survivor. Now it is time to clear your mind, so that you can feel peace and clarity and move on to live your life the way you envision.

Don’t continue to suffer low moods, poor self-esteem, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression or fatigue of PTSD. You can clear your mind of those things that are troubling to you. You can have a great relationship. You can trust again. Life can be good.

Moreover, if the delayed impact of trauma due to childhood abuse is continuing to impact your life in ways that are not helpful, schedule an appointment soon. It’s time to live free of abuse and beyond PTSD.

Give me a call. I can help.

Rapid Resolution Therapy: Clear your mind-Change your life.