-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC
February 20, 2023
The struggle is internal, and undoubtedly can feel eternal for those who have experienced any form of childhood trauma. Such grief, sadness, anger, hurt, and the pain, tremendous pain, can be life-long. Childhood abuse and neglect, whether physical, sexual, and/or psychological, tragically impacts so many children across the world, regardless of race, religion, or economic status.
Statistics of Childhood Trauma
The Child Maltreatment 2021 report acknowledged 3,016,000 children received either an investigation response or alternative response at a rate of 40.7 children per 1,000 in the population in the United States in the year 2021. There is no doubt that this is 3,016,000 too many children, but due to the nature of reporting child abuse and maltreatment, this likely falls short of an accurate number.
The National Institute for Children's Health Quality (2023) reports a higher number in their measure, and includes all adverse childhood experiences . "In the United States, 34.8 million children (ages 0-17)—nearly half of American children—are exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can severely harm their future health and well-being. The implications are so severe that, according to a CDC ACE Study, exposure to six or more ACEs can lower an individual’s life expectancy by nearly 20 years." ACES include "stressful or traumatic events stemming from abuse, neglect, household dysfunction and toxic stress."
Many Lasting Effects of Trauma
Numerous studies show that traumatic experiences cause neurological, biological, physiological, and psychological changes which result in:
increased activation to the sympathetic nervous system by releasing stress hormones, resulting in an increased heart rate and breathing, constricted blood vessels, tightened muscles and dilated pupils, and more
detrimental impacts to children’s underdeveloped brains—which are incredibly vulnerable to the stress induced by trauma—by releasing stress hormones that alter developing brain structure and function
harmful damage to children's immune systems, hormonal systems and the way the body reads and transcribes DNA
continual existence in fight-or-flight mode, making it extremely hard for children to create and maintain healthy relationships, thrive in school or maintain jobs in the future
It is an understatement to say the consequences of adverse childhood experiences are far-reaching. However ACES and their consequences can be prevented, and it's a nationwide strategy that is being targeted thanks to the ongoing work of Vincent J. Felitti and teams with Kaiser Permanente and The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Healing the Younger Versions of You
As a human being who understands suffering, and a counselor who witnesses the painful turmoil of adults of all ages as they embark on complex journey towards healing the inner child; I am certain inner peace is not just possible, but paramount.
Healing the inner child can change the trajectory of detrimental impact to a person's health and well-being, and help end generational abuse. People can and do truly heal, and experience much less psychological and less physical pain.
The first step is discovering the underlying core schemas of belief about oneself that go back to childhood. This can feel like a daunting task, but awareness is always key. As a survival mechanism, humans tend to push down these deep into the unconscious to avoid the experience of pain. Avoiding feels like it helps in the moment, but this suppression negatively impacts oneself and can inadvertently impact others.
"Early maladaptive schemas (EMSs) are broad, self-defeating, pervasive patterns that begin in childhood and repeat throughout a person’s life" (Dodson 2010). Early maladaptive schemas often comprise of memories, emotions, cognitions, and bodily sensations, many of which stem from trauma response. The schemas of belief "incorporate how one conceptualizes oneself and one’s relationships with others" (Dodson). "They develop during childhood and adolescence, are elaborated throughout one’s lifetime, and may be dysfunctional to a significant degree."
Some early maladaptive schemas adopted by children involve being emotionally deprived, abandoned, betrayed, abused, controlled, or led to feel defective. "Toxic frustration of needs, occurs when the child experiences deficits in the early environment (in stability, understanding, or love), and acquires schemas such as Emotional Deprivation or Abandonment" (Dobson, 2010). "The second type of early life experience is traumatization, which occurs when the child is harmed, criticized, controlled, or victimized, and develops schemas such as Mistrust/Abuse, Defectiveness, or Subjugation."
Changing the Trajectory of Life
These maladaptive schemas can lead to unhealthy patterns of thinking that impact very young children, but can lead to pervasive unhealthy, unhelpful, and very painful thoughts. These core schemas can lead to common core thoughts, such as: I am unwanted, I am incapable, I will never be good enough, I don't deserve love, I'm not worthy of love, I will always be alone, or I am a failure.
We are not always conscious of these patterns of belief, so it can be very hard to recognize the thoughts. Take time to observe your patterns of thinking. Do any of the above thoughts sound familiar?
You weren't born with unhealthy thoughts about yourself. They started somewhere, and they will continue, until you put a stop to them.
You can stand up to the hurt person inside yourself who adopted unhealthy thought patterns at a young age. You can take the power back from adverse childhood events and trauma. Once you decide it is time to rediscover yourself in your true core, you will see beneath all of the hurt, the sadness, grief, anger, and self-neglect.
Healing the inner child can take time. Ways to embark on this journey include:
Writing to your younger self from your adult self, with love and compassion
Writing to your adult self from your younger child with hopes and dreams
Writing to an adult when you were a child
Talking out loud to your inner child
Remembering a difficult moment in childhood then imagine being the adult who you needed at the time while you offer yourself love and support
Journaling about your younger self
Using creative expression, art, music, play, to release difficult emotions and spend time nurturing your youthful self
With awareness, self-nurturing, and providing yourself the love and compassion you have always needed, you can heal your inner child. The inner peace is well worth the journey of awareness as you unravel the turmoil within.
Consider giving yourself and your inner child the love you have always deserved, and ultimately the warmest embrace you possibly can. Just let the tears flow, if they do.
Please don't wait a moment more to acknowledge the grief, the sadness, the anger, the hurt, and all of the pain. It's your journey, and therefore your decision. At the very minimum, know you don't deserve any form of neglect or abuse; you never did.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Preventing adverse childhood
experiences: Leveraging the best available evidence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury
Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from
Dobson, K.S. (2010). Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies. The Guilford Press, NY, NY.
National Institute for Children's Health Quality (2023). Did you know childhood trauma affects nearly
half of American children? Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families,
Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2023).Child Maltreatment
2021. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/data-research/child-maltreatment