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Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood: Healing the Invisible Scars

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network estimates that up to 60% of American adults have gone through at least one traumatic event as a child. Feeling alone and isolated, guilty or humiliated, having trouble trusting others, controlling their emotions, and having physical health issues are all common responses to childhood trauma.

While some people may overcome traumatic experiences as children with little long-term impact, others may experience years or even decades of suffering. Knowing the signs is essential to getting the treatment you require.

Childhood trauma defined

Childhood trauma is an event experienced by a child (0-18 years of age) that evokes fear and is commonly violent, dangerous, or life-threatening. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are a type of trauma that can occur in a child.

This type of event may also happen to someone your child knows, and your child is impacted by seeing or hearing about the other person being hurt or injured. When these types of experiences happen, your child may become overwhelmed, upset, and/or feel helpless. These types of experiences can happen to anyone at any time and at any age; however, not all events have a traumatic impact.

Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It can be caused by various incidents, including but not limited to: natural disasters, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect, witnessing violence, and losing a loved one. All trauma is not equal, though; something traumatic for one person could be seen as typical or easily resolved for someone else.

Traumatic experiences can have a lasting impact on a child's development. Children who are victims of trauma may have difficulty trusting others and regulating their emotions and may be more prone to developing mental health conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders. It is important to seek professional help if you or your child are struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event.
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Causes of Childhood Trauma

Many factors, including exposure to community violence, can contribute to childhood trauma. Traumatic events can happen at any stage of childhood, and the effects can last into adulthood. The following are some of the common causes of trauma:
  • Rape | Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Severe illness or injury
  • Loved ones who passed away.
  • Witnessing an act of violence
  • Physical & emotional neglect
  • Family members with mental health or substance use disorders
  • Incarcerated household member
  • Racism, discrimination, and oppression

There is often a link between trauma and the physical presence of a trauma-inducing event, but this is not always true. Witnessing something from a distance can also result in trauma.
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Symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood

Adults who experienced childhood trauma may display symptoms in various ways. When examining an adult exhibiting immediate signs of trauma, there is no set formula to follow. However, patients may have some broad behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms. Here are a few typical adult signs of childhood trauma:


  • Anger
  • Strong reactions to triggers
  • Anxiety & PTSD
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Childlike behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of abandonment


  • Shakiness
  • Night terrors
  • Lack of Energy
  • Sleep disturbances | Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Raising heartbeat
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Stomach problems
  • Headaches


  • Compulsion
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulsiveness
  • Isolation
  • Numbness or Callousness
  • General disorientation | Brain Fog
  • Hyperactivity and aggression
Traumatic events for children cause various reactions, and for some, can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it is important to note that not all exposure to trauma leads to a diagnosis of PTSD. An individual's perception of trauma and perceived severity, as well as protective factors such as whether or not there is a safe and supportive environment, plays a significant role in developing this condition.

Depending on how severe the problem is, there are different categories into which the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be classified.

What are the types of PTSD?

Normal Stress Response

The normal stress response occurs before PTSD develops. The progression of a full-blown disorder does not always occur. Accidents, injuries, illnesses, surgeries, and other unreasonable tension and stress sources can trigger it. With the help of friends, family, and individual or group therapy sessions, it is usually possible to effectively control the condition. Within a few weeks, those experiencing a normal stress response should begin to feel better.

Acute Stress Disorder

This reaction arises after a life-threatening experience but does not exhibit the same symptoms as PTSD. After witnessing a domestic dispute, a natural disaster, or a shooting in a public place, acute stress disorder may develop. ASD has the potential to turn into PTSD if left untreated.

The most effective treatments for this type include group therapy, medication, and psychotherapy.

Uncomplicated PTSD

The simplest form of PTSD to treat is uncomplicated PTSD, which is caused by one significant traumatic event instead of multiple events. Avoiding traumatic reminders, nightmares, flashbacks to the event, irritability, mood swings, and changes in relationships are all symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD. Treatment options include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is common in abuse or domestic violence cases, repeated exposure to war or community violence, or sudden loss. The disorder can occur in childhood or adulthood and affect relationships and behavior.

Numerous traumatic incidents bring on complex PTSD. Treatment for this type is more challenging, and behavioral problems with symptoms including excessive anger, avoidance, depression, or panic may be present. Mental health professionals typically manage complex PTSD in a facility where patients receive round-the-clock emotional care, medication monitoring, and daily treatment.

Complex PTSD can also present through physical health symptoms such as fatigue and chronic pain.
Comorbid PTSD

Comorbid PTSD

Co-occurring mental conditions are common in people with comorbid PTSD. It frequently appears to be associated with problems with substance abuse.

The following are some examples of co-occurring conditions:
The best outcomes come from simultaneously treating the co-occurring mental health issue and the comorbid PTSD.
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Effects of childhood trauma as an adult


The impact of childhood trauma often lasts into adulthood, undermining a child's self-worth and stability. In addition to heightened anxiety and depression, the trauma can also lead to feelings of shame and guilt, difficulty relating to others, trouble controlling emotions, and heightened feelings of anger as an adult.


Numerous adult attachment disorders can develop when a child experiences abuse from caregivers or parents. These may include:

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment occurs when a person tries to avoid creating an emotional bond with, becoming attached to, and being close to others.

This type of attachment develops when a child's needs are disregarded or rejected by the caregiver. To save themselves from being rejected once more as an adult, the child can be extremely independent.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment. It is normal for some children to fear intimacy and close relationships when they witness and endure abuse and neglect. Adults with fearful avoidant attachment are frequently suspicious, have trouble articulating their emotions, and may appear distant from their partners.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment. This adult may come out as needy or clinging, and they frequently ask for relationship affirmation. Since they had inconsistent emotional support from their parents as children, they will never be completely secure. When a child is repeatedly loved and rejected, they begin to wonder where they fit in and need constant affirmation constantly.

For instance, anxious preoccupied attachment sufferers strongly desire to be wanted. They obsess over relationships and hold their potential partners in high regard. As a result, they need affirmation and validation often. A partner can find that demanding and challenging to uphold.


Childhood trauma has a wide range of impacts, each unique to the particular child and the incident. Children who come from homes that don't give them a sense of safety and protection may turn to create their personal coping mechanisms to function daily and simply survive. They can live on eggshells as they become used to being lashed out at by their parents or caretaker. A person becomes highly sensitive to each interaction and others' moods, fearful that he or she will fly into a rage. These kids learn to adapt by repressing their feelings and disguising their anxiety, anger, and sadness.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network asserts that there are direct links between childhood trauma and reckless behavior, including smoking, unprotected sex, and developing chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Abuse victims are more prone to feel stress and anxiety in adulthood. These chronic illnesses can bring on physical symptoms and psychological issues throughout life.
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Treatment for childhood trauma survivors

CPT can help victims of trauma deal with their feelings and helps them redefine, reanalyze, and explain the traumatic event to alleviate feelings of guilt. When treating PTSD, it is frequently used as a first option, especially when dealing with the lingering effects of childhood trauma on adulthood.
TF-CBT is a kind of psychotherapy that uses cognitive behavioral techniques and humanistic principles to treat childhood trauma. It is highly effective in treating young children, teenagers, and adolescents. A typical treatment schedule is 12-15 sessions.
EMDR is a psychotherapy that involves recalling memories of traumatic events and rhythmic eye movement. It is considered highly useful in addressing unprocessed traumatic memories.
NET treats complex and multiple traumatic events. The timeline intervention is a personalized treatment that focuses on exposing trauma in life's events. The therapy involves 4-10 sessions and is short-term. The intervention helps patients understand their life chronologically and contextualize events positively or negatively.
PE is a cognitive behavioral therapy that involves exposing patients to traumatic memories. Treatment plans for adults, adolescents, and children will differ. Therefore, children require customized therapy that considers their developmental stages and capacity for involvement. PE typically lasts for three months.
Play therapy is an effective way to address the effects of trauma through play with very young children. Children aged three to twelve are the target population for play therapy.

Support Groups

Support groups are a great way for people who have experienced trauma to connect with others who have been through similar experiences. The support, lack of judgment, and compassion these groups offer to their members can be extremely beneficial in helping people recover from childhood trauma.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

An alternative approach to trauma treatment and prevention falls outside clinical medicine. These may also include, among many others, tai chi, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy, oriental medicine, massage therapy, herbal medicine, electromagnetic therapy, hypnosis, and creative therapies like dance and music. These techniques are classic approaches to healing trauma without prescription medication.

Comprehending the Persistent Impacts of Childhood Trauma

Integrative, holistic, and functional medicine specialist Dr. Truc Nguyen of Conscious Medicine stated, “From the ACES study, it is important for us to recognize and understand that over 67% of physical health dysfunctions are rooted in childhood attachment traumas. To be effective at managing illnesses, we need to address these traumas. We need to identify and address any childhood traumas to bring resolution to health dysfunction as a holistic approach.”

For someone who has experienced childhood trauma, you may be dealing with several physical symptoms that can impact your well-being. These may include low self-esteem, difficulty forming relationships and trust, and drug or alcohol use issues. Additionally, there is evidence that childhood trauma is linked to health problems such as heart disease, gut issues, obesity, chronic fatigue, brain fog, autoimmune issues, and chronic pain.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek help from our Integrative Functional Medicine practitioner. With proper treatment and support, it is possible to overcome the effects of childhood trauma and live a healthy and fulfilling life.

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Frequently asked questions

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What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is an approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease. Unlike traditional medicine, which often treats symptoms without addressing underlying problems, functional medicine seeks to understand the body and identify imbalances contributing to illness. Functional medicine practitioners use various tools, including nutrition, lifestyle changes, and supplements, to help their patients achieve optimum health. The root cause is a term used in healthcare to refer to the underlying cause of a disease or condition. A root cause may be genetic, environmental, or lifestyle-related. Identifying and addressing root causes is a key component of functional medicine.

I’m not sick. Should I still schedule a consultation?

Prevention is the best medicine, especially regarding your health. Most people believe that illness occurs in the body when you get older; this is not true. By taking steps to prevent disease and injury today, you can stay healthy and avoid costly medical bills later on down the road. Unhealthy habits create chronic inflammation in the body, leading to later illness.

What if I live in another state? Can you still be my doctor?

Yes! Our consultations are done virtually via phone or Internet via Zoom Calls.

Do you accept insurance?

We do not accept insurance. You can pay by credit card, debit card, HSA/FSA debit card, or care credit. You are welcome to submit the superbill for possible reimbursement from your insurance company. This document itemizes the services rendered and provides the insurance company with the information they need to process your claim. Many of our patients get up to 70% reimbursed.
We do not take any part in submitting claims or calling insurance companies, which is 100% the patient’s responsibility. We do not bill or participate in Medicare for any of our services.

Why don’t you accept insurance?

Unfortunately, insurance companies often dictate patients' care, limiting the effectiveness of treatments and time spent with our patients. Reimbursement rates are often too low to cover quality care costs. The administrative burden of dealing with insurance companies can be significant, which takes away from time that could be spent providing care to patients. We believe in providing the best possible care to our patients by spending as much time as necessary with each patient with personalized treatment plans to ensure their needs are met.

Who is a typical patient you see?

We see various individuals looking to upgrade their health and well-being. Our patients vary from complex health issues to the average person who doesn’t feel right. We help patients with chronic diseases such as autoimmune disease, heart disease, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. Dr. Truc assists patients in getting off medication safely and healthily that is best suited for the individual.
Our advanced diagnostic testing, combined with Dr. Truc’s Functional Integrative approach, reveals the root cause of these issues. We see a variety of individuals looking to upgrade their health and well-being. Our patients vary from complex health issues to the average person who doesn’t feel right. We help patients with chronic diseases such as autoimmune disease, heart disease, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. Dr. Truc assists patients in getting off medication safely and healthily that is best suited for the individual.
Our advanced diagnostic testing, combined with Dr. Truc’s Functional Integrative approach, reveals the root cause of these issues.

What can I expect in a wellness consultation?

We see various individuals looking to upgrade their health and well-being. Our patients vary from complex health issues to those who don’t feel right. We help patients with chronic diseases such as autoimmune disease, heart disease, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. Dr. Truc assists patients in getting off medication safely and healthily that is best suited for the individual.
Our advanced diagnostic testing, combined with Dr. Truc’s Functional Integrative approach, reveals the root cause of these issues.

Where can I get my lab testing done?

Our most commonly recommended lab test for stress management is a non-invasive test done in the comfort of your home with ease.

Some labs may require bloodwork which we offer at our Conscious Medicine office. If the distance is an issue for lab testing, we are happy to assist you in finding a facility closer to where you live. At Lab Corp, you can schedule an appointment directly with their facility.

*To follow CDC sanitation and safety protocols, we only accept one patient at a time in our office, wear proper PPE, and disinfect them.*

Does insurance cover lab tests?

Lab tests are not covered by insurance. Many insurance plans, especially those provided by employers, only cover tests considered "medically necessary." You can check with your insurance supplier to see if they will reimburse you for out-of-network labs.

Lab tests are necessary because they can help diagnose many conditions, from uncomplicated infections to more severe diseases. They can also tell us how well your organs work and help us monitor your overall health.

How do I schedule an appointment?

Dr. Truc offers a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to answer any patient's questions or concerns regarding their health ailment and go over the services provided at Conscious Medicine. We look forward to connecting with you and scheduling a call today.

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