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The Lasting Impact of Childhood Trauma

September 12, 2018

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The Meadows

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“Trauma leaves fingerprints on the victim. These don’t fade when the bruises do.”- Dr. Ellen Taliaferro

Childhood trauma has a lasting effect on an individual’s life. The trauma which is either physical, sexual, or emotional in nature, creates a devastating ripple effect on every aspect of the individual’s adult life.

According to one study, more than 21,000 child abuse survivors, age 60 and older in Australia reported a greater rate of failed marriages and relationships.

Research also states that childhood trauma, which ranges from parent’s divorce to alcohol and smoking addictions in the home, is the major cause of heart diseases, lung diseases, liver diseases, and mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, anger outbursts, and suicide in the later stages of an individual’s life. In addition, such trauma can trigger risky sexual behavior leading the individual to suffer from life-threatening diseases thereby leading to “low life potential.”

Even though some individuals seek treatment and therapy in their younger days to deal with the pain of childhood trauma, there is often lingering hurt. The painful memories can suddenly creep up on the individual. Survivors of trauma who are in the later stages of their life may experience a replay of the painful feelings and be extremely confused at its occurrence. Fewer distractions and reduced responsibilities of daily life may cause seniors’ to shift their focus on the traumatic issues of their past. The recurrence of nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms can be frightening and overwhelming.

According to psychiatrist Judith Herman, “As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of their childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the fourth or fifth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down. Often the precipitant is a change in the equilibrium of close relationships: The failure of a marriage, the illness or death of a parent. The facade can hold no longer, and the underlying fragmentation becomes manifest. When and if a breakdown occurs, it can take symptomatic forms that mimic virtually every form of psychiatric disorder. Survivors fear that they are going insane or will have to die “

At this point, there is often an urge to rely on the numbing agents of alcohol or substances to desensitize the recurring pain. Depression, suicidal thoughts, phobias, and low self-esteem can plague the elderly individual to an unusual extent that he/she has never felt before. Life at this point may seem hopeless and agonizing and the elderly individual may feel extremely desperate.

A number of indicators may manifest in an individual who is struggling with a mental health issue such as trauma. If you notice any of the following conditions in a senior loved one, it is important that you encourage and help them seek immediate medical or mental health assistance. These include:

Physical Conditions:

  • Panic attacks
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dizziness, fainting often
  • Dry mouth
  • Body numbness
  • Altered pattern of speech
  • Extreme sweating even though the weather is cold
  • Looking shocked or frightened

Emotional Conditions:

  • Anger outbursts
  • Mentioning past events often
  • Crying often
  • Feeling a sense of failure and regret
  • Startling easily
  • Developing extreme fear towards objects or things.
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling extreme need to control

Healing from the Trauma

Guilt, shame, or repressed memories may hold seniors back from seeking help. They may also feel that they don’t need to disclose their suffering. Some seniors may have already sought help to deal with their past trauma and may feel uncomfortable seeking assistance for the same issues.

Despite the reasoning, it’s never too late to address childhood trauma. Professional help can benefit seniors by facilitating acceptance and overcoming feelings of despair and hopelessness so they can live life to its fullest.

The Meadows treatment center in Arizona has been helping individuals heal from childhood trauma for over 40 years. The caring, multi-disciplinary team at The Meadows understands the unique needs of seniors and the challenges they face. If you or a loved one is struggling with unresolved childhood trauma or co-occurring conditions like substance abuse or depression, please give us a call today at 800-244-4949.