Developmental trauma is a term that refers to trauma that occurs during childhood. Examples include exposure to overwhelmingly stressful situations such as neglect or chronic abuse. Neglect may be physical or emotional, and abuse may be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature. Developmental traumas are sometimes called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. ACEs result from exposure to dysfunctions in the home, such as mental illness, substance abuse, divorce, incarceration, domestic violence, or abandonment. The family may face serious financial hardship, homelessness, or they may be affected by crime or natural disaster. It is estimated that nearly 20% of Americans experienced developmental trauma.
Developmental Trauma and Physical/Mental Illness
Research has shown a correlation between developmental trauma and mental and physical illness in adults. Those with histories of ACEs experience notably more challenges with behavioral, physical, and mental health. Researchers estimate that nearly half of all American’s experienced one or more developmental traumas, and it is likely that these ACEs play a role in many adults’ health challenges.
Long-Lasting Effects of Developmental Trauma
Developmental traumas have long-lasting effects. As adults, those who experienced ACEs often feel impaired in their capacity to connect with themselves or others. As children, they often struggle academically and socially. As adults, they suffer emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, aggression, high-risk behaviors, self-harm, substance abuse, smoking, eating disorders, difficulties with intimacy and relationships, depression and anxiety, sleep disorders, and dissociation. There is evidence, too, that there are links between ACEs and the likelihood of development of non-communicable illnesses in adulthood, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Treating Unresolved Developmental Trauma
In treating unresolved developmental trauma, an obvious conclusion is the importance of early treatment. But regardless of when one seeks help, comprehensive, trauma-informed treatment offers many effective methods to identify and heal early traumas, helping those who suffer to build resilience, improve emotional regulation, recover from behavioral and substance use disorders, nurture strained social development, manage and improve mental health issues, and heal physical illnesses.