Recognizing the Impact of Childhood Trauma

by Megan Bronson RN, MSN, CS © 2004. Balance Point, Inc.   This article is an excerpt from the Phoenix Society's "The Jouney Back".

Printable Version

Consider the developmental stage of the individual when traumatized:

Inadequate or incomplete achievement of developmental tasks often occurs in the wake of trauma. This is true for the burn injured child as well as siblings of the child who suffered the burn. It Is therefore essential to consider the developmental stage the person was in when the burn injury occurred as the developmental task of that stage may have been partially or inadequately mastered The development of the human personality and psychology is similar to the building of a house. In the building of a house, the care with which the foundation is laid will determine the solidness and the structural strength of the completed house. All parts of the house rest on the foundation, just as all parts of the personality are built on the sequential developmental stages of childhood and adolescents.

Unresolved trauma and traumatic loss often present as:

  • Depression • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessional thinking and compulsive behaviors, perfectionism
  • Alcohol and Substance abuse and inappropriate dependence
  • Problems with intimacy such as social isolation, abusive relationships, inappropriate control in relationships, problem with boundaries
  • Sleep disturbance—difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, early awakening
  • Eating disorders—anorexia, binging, bulimia, overeating
  • Psychosomatic illness—such as headaches, peptic ulcers, etc
  • Aggression, hostility, irritability, difficulty managing anger, controlling behaviors
  • Risk taking behaviors
  • Failure to emancipate, failure to take responsibility, running away, etc.
  • Regressive behavior such as thumb sucking and baby talk.

Recognizing fear and its roots in trauma:

It is the trapped fear that is at the root of post traumatic stress symptoms (see accompanying handouts). Common fears of children after trauma are described by Lenore Terr, MD in Too Scared to Cry: How Trauma Effects Children and Ultimately Us All.

These common post trauma fears are:

  • Fear of another more frightening event
  • Fear of separation
  • Fear of death
  • Fear of helplessness
  • The mirror image of extreme rage is extreme passivity—both are fear based

It is often unresolved fear that unconsciously drives a trauma survivor’s life and the resolution of fear is therefore essential to recovery and healing.


Reference:  Balance Point, Inc. Megan Bronson RN, MSN, CS © 2004


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